As we age and start noticing wrinkles, and develop the fear of aging, we’re introduced to the concept of free radicals and antioxidants. Oxidation is a chemical process, examples of which are browning apple left exposed to air, steel rusting, and the pigmentation and wrinkling that we see on our aging skin.
Our body is a finely tuned symphony of biochemical processes, and free radicals are a by-product of these chemical processes. Denham Harman, the father of the oxidative theory of aging, introduced us to the concept of these unstable free radicals being a threat to our bodies by inducing damage to our cells, and our DNA. Free radicals are generated not only from our bodily processes, but also from exposure to the environment, and a host of maladies is, in part, attributed to these free radicals and the oxidative damage they cause.
So let’s just pump up the antioxidants, right? We see antioxidants in almost everything in the consumer market these days. Vitamin E, vitamin A, selenium, green tea, resveratrol, and countless other ingredients grab our attention in our quest for the fountain of youth. What is not widely known is that we come inbuilt with our own free radical scavenging system. This detoxification process involves our liver, our skin, and our digestive system. Glutathione is the main enzyme used to neutralize free radicals in the liver, and even coenzyme Q10 exists freely in our body. Xanthine is converted to uric acid, which besides being the culprit for gouty arthritis, is surprisingly an antioxidant that helps damage from high altitude hypoxia.
Antioxidants neutralise the instability of the free radical molecule by being unstable themselves. Can a diet of supplements containing the highest, most potent dose of these antioxidants buy us a ticket to the centenarian ride? This is where it gets tricky. The US National Cancer Society funded a study in 2001 to see how selenium and Vitamin E supplementation helps in prostate cancer, but it was halted in 2008. Men taking 200mg (Daily recommendation 55mg) selenium, and 400iu (recommended dosage is 22iu) Vitamin E were found to have increased their risk of prostate cancer! Supplementation of Vitamin A (beta carotene) was found to increase the risk of lung cancer in former and current smokers.
Antioxidants, by their nature, can be damaging when taken in excessive amounts beyond what we need. Proper diagnostics and monitoring of our free radical load, and consequently, our antioxidant need, is crucial to ensure the desired outcome. So take a keen interest in your health, and follow that up with steps that improve and optimise health. Let us help you analyse your antioxidant needs and help you discover ways keep the doctor away and the aging damage at bay!
Article by SWC in The Expat magazine, Health Editorial, April 2015 Issue