By Ellen J. Kamhi, Ph. D. with Dorie Greenblatt
Antioxidants. A term we hear often, but do we really pay attention to the enormous role these substances play in our systems? And what are they exactly anyhow? Where do they come from and how do they work?
Antioxidants are a group of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and enzymes found in plant foods. These vital substances help to protect our cells from free radicals, the culprits responsible for causing damage to our bodies very quickly.
Free radicals are groups of unstable atoms looking to obtain electrons in order to become stable themselves. They can pull electrons off cell membranes, causing the cell membranes to have free radical activity as well. This unleashes a vicious cycle of cell destruction, known as a “free radical cascade.” Free radical damage is linked to a plethora of diseases. Luckily there are literally thousands of antioxidants to help us win the “free radical battle”.
Antioxidants can be differentiated by their colors. Those of a red, orange or yellowish color fall into the group known as carotenoids, while those with a blue, purple, black color are from the phenolic family. Of course, there are also some yellow green phenolics too, like the polyphenols from Green Tea.
The carotenoid group of antioxidants are fat-soluble and therefore offer protection for the fat containing parts of the body. This is especially useful in protecting our lipid containing cell membranes. These carotenoids hang out in our membranes, thereby protecting them from free radical damage. What’s even more important is the ability of carotenoids to enhance the activity of other fat-soluble antioxidants such as vitamins A, E and Co Q-10. Some of the best carotenoid sources are lycopene, curcumin and lutein.
Lycopene, a red carotenoid derived from tomatoes, has been shown to contain strong protection capabilities against free radical damage. Curcumin, a yellow carotenoid from turmeric, displays a more protective antioxidant activity than that of Vitamin E or Vitamin A in protecting DNA breakdown (by free oxygen). It also serves as a potent anti-inflammatory agent. Lutein, another carotenoid antioxidant, is a primary component of the retina and macula areas of the eye. Lutein’s antioxidant properties may help protect the macula from light induced free radicals. Evidence shows it may help reduce the risk of age related macular degeneration as well.
The phenolic groups are the water-soluble antioxidants. This group protects the blood, lymph and other bodily fluids, as well as the organs containing those fluids. Some of the best phenolic antioxidants are those found in Green Tea, particularly a group known as catechins. Catechins have proven to have immune- enhancing benefits. Another family of important phenolic antioxidants are those called anthocyanins. These too have proven to act to protect the immune system. Finally, we can’t forget one of the best-known water-soluble antioxidants: Vitamin C !
The need for antioxidants is widespread. We normally think of smokers as the primary group who would most benefit from antioxidants, but the truth is that anyone under stress is a prime candidate for taking antioxidants. In addition, anyone who carries a strenuous physical or mental work load or who exercises often needs the protection of antioxidants, since free radical levels are increased by an active metabolism. And, of course, those individuals who don’t consume enough fruits and vegetables in their diet should also consider using a well-rounded antioxidant formula.
Nature’s Answer offers an outstanding selection of antioxidant formulas available in liquid and/or capsule form. These include Lycopene and Green Tea Extracts (liquid, softgel and vegetarian capsule), Bio-Flavonoids & Rose Hips (low organic alcohol liquid herbal extract) and Grape Seed Extract (vegetarian capsule). For a well-balanced potent antioxidant blend, try Antioxidant Supreme™, a standardized herbal extract formula containing the best of the carotenoid and phenolic antioxidants in one convenient vegetarian capsule. This formula, in particular, provides concentrated natural sources of antioxidants for “supreme” overall protection.
These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.