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JUST WHAT ARE "FREE RADICALS"? -- The term "free radical" seems to appear a lot lately in everything from vitamins brochures to cosmetic advertisements. No one seems to explain what exactly one is. Free radicals are highly-reactive and unstable molecules that can cause serious cellular damage. These molecules contain atoms with unpaired electrons.
An unpaired electron has a tremendous pull on the atoms of other cells causing these cells to become disrupted, this can cause a chain reaction resulting in many aging problems. This aging is like oxidation of the body similar to metal rust.
The same oxygen that causes metal to rust causes free radicals in our bodies which causes it to age or "rust".
Free radicals are produced not only through normal bodily processes, but also from other sources such as air pollution and tobacco smoke. Free radicals attack many of your vital cellular components, including cellular membranes and DNA.
They also stimulate processes that have been linked to accelerated cellular aging.
Along with reducing fat and salt intake, not smoking, and regular exercise, eating foods rich in antioxidants (fruits, vegetables, nuts, and leafy greens) should help reduce the damage caused by these free radicals. For those who don't eat a well-balanced diet, taking supplements is highly recommended. Smokers especially, should consider taking antioxidants daily.
ANTIOXIDANTS BATTLE HIGH FAT MEALS - Researchers have measured how much damage just one high fat meal can cause. They've shown how, for at least six hours afterwards, arteries are unable to expand to properly handle the blood flow needed during physical or emotional stress.
Scientists believe this may be one reason why people who already have "clogged" arteries so often suffer heart attacks soon after eating a high-fat meal. Scientists have suspected that a sudden high dose of fat triggers oxidation. This results in the release of certain chemicals in the body that damage the inner layer of cells that line the heart and blood vessels. They hypothesized that introducing antioxidants may counteract the process.
Antioxidants Before Eating High Fat Foods Prevents Damage to Arteries
To test their theory, scientists at the University of Maryland first measured the arteries in volunteers' arms, then invited them to eat a high-fat meal, including hash browns, eggs, cheese and sausage, which contained 50 grams of fat. But before they ate, they also took two popular antioxidants; 800 units of vitamin E and 1,000 mg of vitamin c. After the meal, technicians again measured the volunteers' arteries. This time, they found no damage to the arteries. The vitamins supported cardiovascular integrity.
Research Shows Antioxidants Provide Lasting Benefits
"The exciting thing to us is we could see an immediate, beneficial, profound physiological effect," said Dr. Gary Plotnick, co-author of the study. The researchers measured artery response for up to six hours after the meal and found the vitamins provided a lasting benefit. "We were surprised by the magnitude of the results," said Dr. Robert Vogel. "There's been a great debate about the use of antioxidant vitamins and we were surprised to see how powerful just one dose of antioxidant vitamins were on this important process."
LYCOPENE, THE TOMATO WONDER - There is no question today that antioxidants are a significant part of the important nutrients we need today to support our health. One of the more newly understood of these antioxidants is lycopene. This much hailed phytonutrient is found in tomatoes. It is actually the substance that gives tomatoes their red color and, like beta-carotene, is a member of the carotenoid family.
Research on dietary lycopene suggests that it may lower the risk of heart attack. A study of over 1,300 European men indicates that those who consumed the most lycopene from foods had about half the risk of heart attack.
A five-year study of 48,000 men found that those eating ten servings per week of cooked tomato products had the lowest risk of prostate cancer. Believe it or not, their risk was only one-third that of men eating less than two servings per week. Other studies suggest that lycopene may play a major role in reducing the risk of other cancers, including cancers of the breast, rectum and colon.
And there's more. While fresh tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, cooking them makes it even easier for your body to use their lycopene. Apparently, as the tomatoes break down when they are cooked, the lycopene is more easily absorbed. Including a little fat will help, too, especially monosaturated fat like olive oil.
It is not known exactly how much lycopene one should consume each day, but based on recent studies, you would probably want to eat ten servings of tomatoes per week. Of course, supplementing for it makes sense, especially for those who don't "like" tomatoes or who just don't consume enough of them.
ANTIOXIDANTS -- When you exercise heavily, you need additional antioxidants according to a leading researcher. Exercise stimulates your body's production of "free radicals" that attack cells, leading to long-term damage and a higher risk of cancer. To counteract the exercise hazard, experts suggest taking antioxidant supplements daily, notably vitamin E (400 IU) and vitamin C (1000 mg).
VITAMIN E SCORES AGAIN - A recent study on mice, completed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, shows that vitamin E gives "potent protection" from heart disease. Dr. Garret A. Fitzgerald, who is Chairman of the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center's Department of Pharmacology, said the study offers "powerful evidence" that vitamin E works effectively as an antioxidant against atherosclerosis, a form of arteriosclerosis-hardening of the arteries. Dr. Fitzgerald, who was the senior author of the report, said the study also demonstrates the role of harmful free radicals in heart disease.
FOR YOUR INFO -- Vegetables and fruits with the deepest colors contain the highest levels of antioxidant nutrients.
MY KIND OF ANTIOXIDANT! -- One scientist recently discovered that chocolate contains phenolics, an antioxidant that is believed to reduce your overall chances of contracting heart disease. Pure chocolate may be the best chocolate around. That's because the fat in pure chocolate usually comes from cocoa butter and cocoa butter has a high content of stearic acid, the saturated fat that doesn't hurt your blood cholesterol level. What's better for you white or dark chocolate?
As a general rule, dark chocolate is made from a higher content of cocoa butter. It also contains many phenolics. White chocolate usually doesn't have very many phenolics, but is loaded with cocoa butter. A dark chocolate bar is considered the most beneficial, followed by fudge syrup, baking chocolate, chocolate fondue, and semisweet chips. Stay away from the candy bars at the supermarket checkout aisle, they usually contain less than 20 percent of the good-for-you cocoa butter. Also avoid chocolate ice cream since it's usually not made with cocoa butter.
DON'T OVER-DO IT -- Brewed coffee seems to create hundreds of new chemicals that appear to have antioxidant qualities. Each chemical is present in only tiny amounts, but taken together in a cup of coffee, they could add up to have about the same antioxidant effect as three oranges.
SELENIUM NEWS -- Selenium has been found to be beneficial in the fight against free radicals, which contribute to premature aging, among other things. Selenium is found in the highest concentrations in seafoods, grains, muscle meats, and Brazil nuts. A multi-vitamin that contains between 70-100 mcg is recommended, but an additional supplement is not necessary.
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