It was then suggested that many diseases were a consequence of accumulated free radical damage. The result of this damage was dysfunction in the organs. This can be likened to targeting a car with a gun, it is unlikely that one bullet would stop the car but if we riddled the car with bullets, it would ultimately stop working. This theory infatuated scientists and they began testing it .. .
Initial studies, performed with animals and in test-tubes, confirmed the theory. Then came the human studies and results were hot and cold, some studies lending support and others calling the theory into question. You have likely read articles in the newspaper with titles like “Vitamin C Causes Cancer” or “Vitamin E Useless for Preventing Heart Disease”. Although these studies were horribly flawed and the findings nothing more than statistical lies, they nonetheless caused doctors and the public to question the benefits of antioxidants.…
So what do we make of these inconsistent results?
First, it is important to realize that the story about antioxidants and free radicals is a complex one. I have decided to use this article to describe how I have utilized the free radical theory to enhance my own lifestyle and supplement program rather than debate the theory itself. I believe that the free radical theory of aging does provide us valuable insight into the disease process, however, I also feel that our understanding of how to fully use antioxidants is incomplete at best. So here are my personal beliefs based on the data we have to date:
Food is my foundation. This is one of the few areas where I agree with the conventional stance on nutrition. Supplementation should be used to SUPPLEMENT your diet, not replace it. When you look at any particular food it can be placed into two main categories; processed and unprocessed food. Making unprocessed food a big part of your diet will play a huge role in determining whether or not free radicals run rampant in your body.
Fortified food is NOT the same as foods naturally high in nutrition. In nature, vitamins are much more complex compounds than those we fortify food with. For example, food source vitamin C is actually a combination of numerous compounds including bioflavonoids which are encased in a protective shell which we call ascorbic acid. The ascorbic acid is the antioxidant protection for the full vitamin C molecule, but when we fortify food with “vitamin C”, in fact, we are only fortifying it with the protective shell of vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Now, ascorbic acid does benefit the body, but it is not nearly as beneficial as the vitamin C molecule found in an orange, pepper or kiwi.
The goal is not to completely eradicate free radicals from the body. Free radicals, when left unchecked, appear to damage the cells and do appear to play a significant role in the formation of disease. This does not mean, however, that free radicals do not play an important role in the human body. In fact, free radicals are used by immune cells to destroy offending bacteria, viruses and cancer cells. In addition, free radicals are your cell’s barbells for keeping in shape. Last year, scientists discovered that when ascorbic acid was given in high doses before intense exercise free radicals were significantly decreased. This sounds like a good thing, however, the eradication of the free radicals decreased the ability of the cell to produce mitochondria. The mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell and one of the positive consequences of exercise is an increase in the number and size of the mitochondria found in the cells. The increase in these cellular engines is partially responsible for the increase in energy and vitality associated with exercise. Loading the body with too many antioxidants appeared to inhibit the process of mitochondria production. Why does this happen? Free radicals seem to give feedback to the cell that more energy producing mitochondria are needed because free radicals are an indication that your body is using more oxygen! The goal is to provide the body with sufficient antioxidants to defend the cell rather than trying to mount a massive offensive.
Antioxidant Supplements, the secret is getting enough but not too much. People who are familiar with our work know that it is rare that we recommend high doses of vitamin E or selenium or vitamin C without discussing the importance of balance. No vitamin or antioxidant exists in a vacuum, in fact, our body is a nutrient and antioxidant soup full of thousands of different antioxidants, enzymes and nutrients all commissioned with the job of protecting us from disease. I just do not believe that throwing huge doses of one antioxidant into this complex nutrient soup is going to result in any significant gain for the whole body. This is why research on vitamin E has been so disappointing. Vitamin E itself is not made up of one compound but MANY! All of which play a role in the body, just because we may not fully understand that role does not mean it is not important. So here are the secrets to antioxidants: First rely on food for your foundation as previously discussed. Second, supplement with a balanced multi-vitamin formula such as Nutrient 950. Third, get antioxidant protection from whole food and herbal supplements…
The formula that I personally use as my antioxidant formula is called Botanical Treasures by Natura Health Products. This product combines a number of herbal and food based ingredients such as: turmeric, green tea, grape seed extract, knotweed, grape skin, ginger, holy basil, amla and rosemary. All of these herbs contain hundreds or thousands of nutrients and antioxidant compounds that work in unison to protect the whole body. In addition, many of these compounds provide other powerful benefits to the body such as normalizing the inflammatory response, normalizing cell division, activating genes known to protect the cell from aging, etc. By taking whole food based antioxidant formulas I feel that it is nearly impossible to over saturate the system with antioxidants because the body treats these compounds as food. This means that the body has some say as to what is absorbed and utilized.
To summarize, the free radical theory of aging gives us great insight into one path by which disease is potentiated in the body and aging is promoted. Much more research is needed to determine how best to utilize this understanding. In the mean time, eating good raw and unprocessed fruits and vegetables and supplementing with whole food antioxidants is likely to provide our bodies with sufficient defense against the ravages of free radicals.