Taking vitamin and mineral supplements in your 30s is optional, but by your 40s and 50s it is highly recommended. By then, you’ve already sustained some free radical damage from the cumulative effects of poor diet, excess stress, sun damage, toxins in the air, pollutants, and hormonal shifts. Free radicals are a group of harmful compounds released during any inflammatory or infection process. Normally, the body can handle free radicals, but if anti-oxidants are unavailable, or, if the free radical production becomes excessive, damage can occur. Needless to say, free radical damage accumulates with age.
This is where anti-oxidants play a major role—they help us cleanse the body of these harmful substances and provide us the ability to live a longer and healthier life. Major anti-oxidants such as vitamins A, C and E protect the body against the destructive effects of free radicals. They act as scavengers; they prevent cell and tissue damage that lead to cellular damage and disease, including cancer.
Vitamin C, a great anti-oxidant in the body, acts primarily in cellular fluid. It plays a pivotal role in combating free radical formation caused by pollution and cigarette smoking. It also helps return vitamin E to its active form. This is not all. Studies have correlated high vitamin C intake with low rates of cancer—especially, cancers of the mouth, larynx and oesophagus. It is highly recommended by doctors to take a Vitamin C supplement daily so that if your diet changes you can remain healthy.
Vitamin E is another important and efficient anti-oxidant in the body. Vitamin E is a primary defender against oxidation, and lipid per oxidation, or creation of unstable molecules, containing more oxygen than is normal. Vitamin E is also known to protect against heart [cardiovascular] disease by defending against LDL [“bad”] cholesterol and its role in the formation of arterial plaque, which can lead to heart attack or stroke.
Role of anti-oxidants
Anti-oxidants act as adjudicators in the body, and obstruct potentially hazardous situations caused by free radicals. They are also suggested to help protect the body from free radical damage itself.
This does not, of course, mean that you can go on a binge with them. Anything in excess is not a good idea—what would be most effective and useful, however, would be the intake of anti-oxidants through food in normal amounts and/or supplements prescribed by your therapist in optimal dosages.
There are a host of natural chemicals and substances that are found in nature which have anti-oxidant properties and beneficial effects. Experts advise that the best way to ensure adequate intake of anti-oxidant nutrients is through a balanced diet consisting of 4-5 servings of fruits and vegetables everyday.
If not, a supplement with the right proportion of vitamins and minerals is most essential.
Anti-oxidants work synergistically with one another, meaning one anti-oxidant supports the action of another. For instance, when vitamin E has mopped up as many free radicals as it can hold, vitamin C removes them from vitamin E, freeing vitamin E to continue its work. This is good reason why you should take vitamins C and E together. Zinc and vitamins C and E also help increase the absorption of vitamin A.
Sources of anti-oxidants
Most of the anti-oxidants come from plant sources or derivatives. They are called nutraceuticals or functional foods [phytochemicals]. Nearly 70,000 such plant compounds have been identified—the most effective among them being vitamins A, C, the most potent, and E. They are also celebrated by the acronym—ACE.
In actuality, each cell in our body produces its own anti-oxidants. However, our ability to produce anti-oxidants decreases as we age. It is, therefore, imperative that our diet should contain a regular supply of anti-oxidants, especially by way of nutraceuticals or phytochemicals—fruits and vegetables—besides the prescribed intake of supplemental vitamins and minerals.
Our bodies also produce several anti-oxidant enzymes, which destroy many types of harmful free radicals.
Supplements of such enzymes are available in the form of tablets, or capsules. They are manganese, zinc, copper, chromium, selenium etc.,
In addition to enzymes, many vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, B, C, and E, beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, co-enzyme Q10, and the amino acid, cysteine, act as natural anti-oxidants. You may also think of herbs, such as milk thistle, aloe vera, cascara sagrada, bilberry, turmeric, grape seed, or pine bark extract, licorice, and ginkgo, which can all provide natural and powerful anti-oxidant protection for the body and help block many of the health problems associated with free radicals. There are specific types of anti-oxidants found in tea called phenols; they are also found in a variety of berries and grapes.
Natural anti-oxidants are most plentiful in fruits and vegetables, as well as other foods such whole grains, nuts, meat, poultry, and fish. They are –
- Beta-carotene. This is found in carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, apricots, squash, pumpkin, and mango. Some green leafy vegetables are also rich in beta-carotene – e.g., spinach
- Lycopene. This potent anti-oxidant is commonly found in tomatoes, watermelon, papaya, guava, apricots, pink grapefruit, oranges, and other foods
- Lutein. This anti-oxidant is famous for its association with healthy vision. It is found in green, leafy vegetables such as spinach
- Selenium. Though selenium is technically not an anti-oxidant, it is an important component of most anti-oxidant enzymes. It is found in plant derivatives such as rice and wheat. Rice and wheat are the most common dietary sources of selenium in many countries. Brazil nuts are another great source – they contain large quantities of selenium. And, most importantly:
- Vitamin A. This is found in liver, carrots, sweet potatoes, egg yolk, milk, and mozzarella cheese
- Vitamin C. This is found in high concentrations in many citrus fruits and vegetables, including cereals, beef, poultry, and fish products
- Vitamin E. Vitamin E is found in many oils including wheat germ, corn, safflower, and soybean. It is also found in mango, nuts, especially almonds, broccoli, and other foods.
Important: If your diet does not provide for adequate amounts of anti-oxidants, or if you are just unsure, it is essential for you to supplement your diet with a high-quality anti-oxidant vitamin and mineral complex, in consultation with your therapist/dietician.
Breaking the Chain
You need to know that the free radical assault is not limited to oxygen alone; it can also emerge by way of environmental pollution, radiation, smoking, chemicals, pesticides etc.,
The key to having a healthy body is to repair the damage caused by free radicals before it is late. This means that you need to protect your body’s tissue cells from the free radical invasion before they cause mutations.
Anti-oxidants are substances that have free radical chain-reaction-breaking properties. Take them; better still, make them part of your daily intake.
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