Postpone Aging - Antioxidants & Superfoods
by Jerry Hickey, R.Ph.
There is a group of substances naturally formed in the human body that become troublesome in the elderly; free radicals. Free radicals are very unstable molecules that burn out the inners of our cells; cells that already have been replaced far too many times over the course of a lifetime, that may have run out of replacements and that may just peter out. If enough cells peter out – that’s trouble.
To a chemist a radical is any atom with an unpaired electron; electrons are only stable when they hover around the atoms that make you, in pairs. The free and now radical electrons seek stability by indiscriminately stealing mates. They do this by stripping an electron from a nearby surface causing microscopic damage; this destroys enzymes, damages chromosomes, and punctures cells. This electron stealing process is called oxidation.
Under normal circumstances oxidation is a vital part of metabolism that occurs during the creation and use of energy. Unfortunately the tiny energy producing power-plants found throughout our trillions of cells (they are known as mitochondria) are not perfect and there is a tiny leakage of oxidation. These oxidative products are like toxic-waste to the cell and they harm it. There are many other contributors that generate this toxic waist including infection, inflammation, diabetes and other diseases, alcohol and smoking, excessive calorie, fat or sugar intake, truncal obesity, liver damage, pollutants, some drugs, radiation, and excessive exercise are all contributors to the level of oxidation.
The antidote to oxidation is antioxidants. If the amount of oxidation at any time exceeds the available pool of nearby antioxidants in your tissues you experience damage so it is prudent to maintain a satisfactory level of available antioxidants.
You are familiar with some antioxidants, they are found in your multiple-vitamin and in fresh fruits, cereals and vegetables; vitamin C, vitamin E, Beta-carotene and other well-known carotenoids such as Lycopene (prostate, vascular, skin, and breast health) and Lutein (skin and eye health). Some foods offer a variety of very powerful antioxidants and these are often the very same ingredients (the pigments) that make the plants so beautiful and delicious. Sometimes they are the ingredients that protect the plants from stress caused by heat, cold, draught, dampness, mildew and insects. These plant ingredients often protect our entire body and some excel at protecting a particular organ or function.
The same ingredients in these foods have many other benefits apart from and in addition to their antioxidant effects. The following foods supply very powerful natural antioxidants that pack additional health benefits. They are among the most beneficial of foods but they are listed in no particular order; try to consume at least some of these foods every day;
- Mushrooms contain Ergothioneine; a very powerful antioxidant that is well absorbed by humans and cooking doesn’t affect the amount supplied. These delicious edibles may contribute to balancing blood sugar and cholesterol. Mushrooms also supply various polysaccharides that support and balance immune system function. A recent study showed that women who consume both mushrooms and Green Tea on a daily basis had a big drop in their breast cancer risk.
- Beans and other legumes: these plants provide isoflavones; substances that look like estrogens but have very little estrogenic activity. Much evidence shows that these foods help lower the risk of hormone related cancers in both men and women including hormone positive breast and prostate cancer. Foods in this group include all edible beans, peas, lentils, and soy foods (soy in moderation). These same isoflavones are highly absorbable antioxidants that are also very soluble, entering the brain and other organs where they function as antioxidants.
- Dark red and purple berries: these delicious fruits supply Punicalagins – strong antioxidants that shield the digestive tract and the heart/circulatory system. Punicalagins are converted into Ellagitannins by the friendly bacteria in our intestines. Ellagitannins improve the livers ability to remove toxins and pollutants from the body, shield us from radiation and have demonstrated the ability to destroy or at least inhibit a wide variety of cancers in laboratory studies.
- Cabbage family vegetables or cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels’ sprouts. These smelly plants are rich in thiol (sulfur containing) antioxidants that shield you from head to toe and also assist detoxification. One ingredient known as Sulforaphane protects the eyes and fights viruses, especially herpes, while stimulating detoxification. A second ingredient known as Indole-Carbinol is converted to a metabolite known as DIM which fights wart type viruses, shields the ovaries, uterus, cervix, and breasts, removes xenoestrogens from the body, and fights to protect a man’s prostate. Other ingredients seal toxins into waste matter preventing their recycling. Note; raw cabbage contains goitrogens so always cook your cabbage if you have an underactive thyroid
- Spices are consumed in small amounts but they are major antioxidants. Few foods match the protection offered by cinnamon, oregano, blackseed, rosemary, parsley, ginger and turmeric. These wallop you with protection and most of these also dislike yeasts and infectious bacteria.
- Green Tea supplies active antioxidants known as Catechins. Chief among these is a very special ingredient known as EGCG. It is very special because it packs numerous activities well beyond its antioxidant punch. Green Tea with EGCG promotes fat burning and improved metabolism without causing over-stimulation. These actions help improve your waistline while improving energy. Additionally, Green Tea ingredients affect your genes in a good way. Genes dictate what our body does and they are a blueprint for action. Unfortunately like our skin and heart, our genes age and loose activity. EGCG along with other Green Tea constituents keep aging genes in the cancer fighting business offering protection for the digestive tract (mouth, esophagus, colon, etc), for breast tissue and especially for a mans prostate gland and I strongly recommend a number of servings of Green Tea throughout your day.
- Red Wine contains Resveratrol, Quercetin, and Grape Seed Extract. However, it also contains alcohol and calories. Alcohol is toxic to the digestive tract, brain, liver and pancreas. Still, the antioxidants in red wine are so powerful and so beneficial that overall they make red wine healthy when consumed in moderation. Grape Seed extract is likely the strongest natural antioxidant known to science. It is highly soluble and soon after ingesting it is entering the spine and brain, eyes, heart, liver, and kidneys where it is highly protective. It also powerfully protects us from excess sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol, and also from tobacco smoke and other toxins. Quercetin is great for the lungs, eyes, prostate, and improves blood pressure, allergies, and asthma. Resveratrol is a major manipulator of our genes keeping them young, healthy and active. As a result we remain healthy, young, and active.
- Exotic fruits and berries are loaded with antioxidants and other clever, often esoteric agents that help suppress the cancer and heart disease process. These include Acai, Aronia, and Goji berries, Mangosteen, Pomegranate, Kiwi, Black Currant, and Black Raspberry.
Major breakthrough in nutrition: Quercetin increases endurance and fitness
Quercetin is a powerful antioxidant/anti-inflammatory compound found in very healthy foods such as tea, berries, and red wine. A good diet supplies about 25mg to 50mg of Quercetin each day. As it turns out Quercetin significantly boosts endurance in healthy but not fit men and women. The researchers from the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health state that the findings provide “great news for those who often think that they’re too tired to exercise.” Quercetin may be important in relieving the fatigue that keeps people sedentary, keeping them from exercising.
For the study, funded in part by the U.S. Department of Defense, 12 participants were assigned randomly to one of two treatments. Half were given 500 mg of Quercetin twice a day in a drink for seven days. The other subjects had the drink without Quercetin. At the end of the period during which the subjects were told not to alter their physical activity, the participants rode stationary bicycles to the point of fatigue. Researchers also tested important measures of fitness such as their ability use oxygen efficiently when exercising. Then the participants received the opposite treatment for another seven days before riding the bicycle to the point of fatigue and the tests. “The participants were healthy, relatively active, college-age students, but they were not physically trained athletes, and they were not taking part in a regular exercise training program,” stated the researchers.
After taking Quercetin for only seven days, the participants had a 13.2% increase in endurance and a 3.9% increase in efficiency of supplying oxygen to large muscle groups. The scientist state that “These were statistically significant effects that indicate an important improvement in endurance capacity in a very short time.” “Quercetin supplementation was able to mimic some of the effects of exercise training.” The study was published online ahead of print in the June 9, 2009 edition of the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.
What is a Superfood?
A Superfood describes foods with a very high phytonutrient content that confers health benefits as a result.
What is an example of a Superfood?
A good example would be Collagen. Collagen has peptides and amino acids that are easily incorporated into our own tissues resulting in healing and support. Collagen also supplies hydroxylysine and hydroxyproline; two amino acids needed for creating every connective tissue in the body. They also give a natural coating to blood vessel walls, sort of like the bodies own Teflon, protecting them from sugar and cholesterol in the blood. Other ingredients naturally found in this protein are Chondroitin Sulfates, Keratin, and Hyaluronic Acid. These repair and maintain joint tissue, making walking easier again, and they are also some of the building blocks for strong bones. Human clinical research shows that taking a Collagen supplement helps treat poorly healing wounds, reduces fine and larger wrinkles on the skin, improves skin hydration, elasticity, and thickness, and supports joint health. As a supplement Collagen should be hydrolyzed or broken down somewhat for easier absorption.