Hey everybody, happy Friday! While I was in the gym this week I was approached a number of times and asked why fruits and specifically antioxidants were so important for our bodies. As is my customary response, I promised to do some research and find the best information available so I could then share it with all of you. I hope the following blog helps shed some light on why antioxidants play such an important role in our ongoing quest for improved health and wellness. Enjoy!
Have you ever heard of Linus Pauling? For the non-scientists out there, he was one of the most influential chemists in history. He is one of only four individuals to have won more than one Nobel Prize, and one of only two people to have been awarded Nobel Prizes in different fields. So what has he got to do with core health and antioxidants? Just about everything.
Linus Pauling’s first Nobel Prize was for his work on the nature of the chemical bond. He found that electrons like to pair up to form stable two-electron bonds. Unfortunately for us humans, the series of reactions that occur in this process also form a very reactive, single-unpaired electron chemical species classified as “superoxides”. Once formed, these Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) can cause severe damage to cells and tissues through a radical chain reaction called “oxidative damage” and is thought to lead to aging and other chronic problems.
- ROS can cause oxidative damage to various biological molecules. For example, they can damage cell membranes and lipoproteins (lipid peroxidation which plays an important role in atherlsclerosis), proteins (leading to structural changes and loss of enzyme activity) or DNA, leading to the formation of oxidative DNA lesions which can cause mutations. Although the body has a number of DNA repair enzymes that can remove these lesions, their repair success is not perfect. Therefore, oxidative DNA damage and mutations accumulate with age, which may contribute to serious disease.
- Antioxidants can be found in blueberries, pecans, kidney beans and various other plant foods-especially those with bright colors. How antioxidants protect us is to scavenge or neutralize/inactivate ROS before they cause damage to the various biological molecules. Antioxidants can also prevent oxidative damage from spreading by interrupting the radical chain reaction of lipid peroxidation. The antioxidant defense systems in the human body are extensive and consist of multiple layers, which protect at different sites and against different types of ROS.
There are several antioxidants that play important roles in the antioxidant defense systems of the body. These antioxidants are particularly important in blood. These antioxidants include lipid-soluble and water-soluble antioxidants. The lipid-soluble antioxidants are found in cellular membranes and lipoproteins, whereas the water-soluble antioxidants are present in blood and the fluids within cells and surrounding them.
Alpha-tocopherol, the biologically and chemically most active form of vitamin E, is by far the most abundant lipid-soluble antioxidant in humans. Evidence has shown that vitamin E can lower the risk of heart disease. A reasonable way that vitamin E might do this is through the protection of LDL against oxidation, which is a critical step in the development of atherosclerosis.
Other lipid-soluble antioxidants are beta-carotene (a vitamin A precursor) the carotenoids, such as alpha-carotene, lycopene (the red color in tomatoes), lutein, and zeaxanthine.
In summary, we are constantly exposed to ROS generated from within our own bodies and from sources outside our bodies (sunlight). These ROS react with biological molecules, such as DNA, proteins, and lipids, causing structural and functional oxidative damage which accumulates as we age. This accumulation can contribute to a number of degenerative diseases. Antioxidants limit this oxidative damage and dietary antioxidants significantly contribute to antioxidant defense systems in humans. This defense may help protect us from certain age-related degenerative diseases.
- The Vitamin Shoppe, David Morrison