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 Understanding Antioxidants


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          Understanding Antioxidants by Pete Maletto

Until recently, the dream of extending human life was little more than something from the imagination of a science fiction writer. For years, scientists have struggled to learn the secrets to life and death, but we continued to lack the basic knowledge of aging mechanisms. Over the past fifty years science has come to understand these mechanisms are the progressive degradation of body functions that occur mostly through the destructive process of oxidative stress.

A good analogy of oxidative stress is simply explained as the car with no paint. When you leave an unpainted car outside it begins rusts as the steel is subjected to the process of oxidation. Rust continues to form, causing holes to appear and eventually complete destruction of the car occurs. A similar process occurs within the human body on a daily basis. However, in our case, rather than a single "rusting" process, different bodily systems degrade (age) at different rates.

Most people believe there is nothing they can do to change the oxidative aging process. The tragic scenario of progressive degradation is simply life and we just have to accept it. But there is something you can do about it and in fact, scientific evidence shows that if you can slow down the oxidative process, you can prevent aging and even reverse the process.

Of course, some techniques are as simple as avoiding activities that shorten your life span, such as smoking, heavy drinking or eating poorly. But one activity we should all engage in is using the power of antioxidants to reduce oxidative stress and simply prolong life.

Antioxidants are nutrients that reduce the damage caused by uncontrolled oxidation products of lipids, called organic peroxides. Science has shown that these organic peroxides from oxidation are mutagens that cause damage to the cellular DNA (which is our blueprint for new cell structure). Without antioxidants, the peroxides eventually create free radicals and cause elevated oxidative stress levels that inflict damage at a cellular level.

Medical research has shown that antioxidants can help our cells defend against this damage by consuming nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. We know these nutrients as the common vitamins A, C, E, and the minerals selenium and zinc. But more recently, another class of antioxidants is taking center stage. These antioxidants are known as phytochemicals, which are organic compounds found in plants and superfoods.

Phytochemicals are a new phenomena in life extension. Some phytochemicals are shown to be over two hundred times more powerful than vitamin E; others show even greater antioxidant potential more specific to different systems in the human body. Finally, science is now showing that we can reduce oxidative stress with certain super-foods that can be specific to each function in the human body.

As phytochemicals are showing great promise in reducing oxidative stress, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has created a set of values. These values list is known as the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) Scale. It scientifically measures a super-food's capacity to absorb free radicals.

Some super-foods cast a wide range of free radical fighting phytochemicals; the most powerful class is known as flavonoids (polyphenols.) Super-foods that have a greater concentration of these antioxidant compounds have a greater ORAC value and therefore are more effective at reducing oxidative stress.

For example, green tea's high catechin and polyphenol content gets most of its attention for anti-cancer and free radical fighting capabilities, but one super-food with an even higher antioxidant content is dark chocolate. Dark Chocolate's cocoa phytochemical content contains the main flavonoid polyphenols epicatechin, and catechin (both found in green tea), and polymers of these, the proanthocyanidins (found in the very popular antioxidant grape seed and pine bark extract). Clinical studies have shown that eating dark chocolate cocoa flavonoids is associated with creating optimal cardiovascular health, prevention of cancers and mutations, and decreasing the aging process. In fact, Dark Chocolate has the highest ORAC value of over 26,000 making it a top super-food.

Dark Chocolate's cocoa flavonoids have also been demonstrated to scavenge reactive oxygen and reactive nitrogen free radicals. They can also chelate metals, such as iron, which also participate in elevated free radical activity. The most popular clinical study on Cocoa flavonoids has been shown that they inhibit the oxidation of LDL. The oxidation of LDL is thought to be a crucial event in cardiovascular disease.

While Cocoa flavonoids reduce oxidative stress they also seem to interact with brain chemistry. The polyphenol content in cocoa increases antioxidant activity in the brain, improving cell communication. Cocoa flavonoids also have been shown to induce a calm feeling by positively affecting serotonin levels. This is also enhanced by cocoa's ability to produce a natural chemical called anandamide in the brain, which acts as a euphoric natural painkiller.

Another very new powerful antioxidant super-food is from the Amazon rainforest called the Açai Berry. This berry contains anthocyanins, which are a group of phytochemicals otherwise found in red wine. Anthocyanins, a flavonoid category, were found in one clinical study to have the combined antioxidant power of over 150 types of flavonoids.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently tested the abilities of berry varieties to protect against oxidative damage. In general, they found that berries such as Açai and Bilberry have the highest antioxidant capacity of any fruit. Different varieties of the same species have varying amounts of anthocyanins. But besides anthocyanins, the Açai berry also contains high amounts of the basic core antioxidants vitamins A, C, and E as well as essential fatty acids that benefit master hormones important in the preventing the aging process. In fact, Oprah put the Açai berry at the top of her list of super-foods this year.

We are in the midst of an antioxidant super-food revolution. Twenty years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find any scientific papers highlighting the importance of certain foods in our diet in relation to our health. Today, the medical journals are filled with such references and amazingly enough, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has even stepped in, noticing the key role antioxidants play on our health. It appears that the scientific world is finally recognizing that the foods we eat play a key role in health and disease.

                                                
                                               Chief Science Officer, DynaPure Nutrition


Copyright © August 2005  Pete Maletto and Low Carb Luxury



 

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