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Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and other natural substances produced by the body. They also can be found naturally in many of the foods consumed on a daily basis. The body requires antioxidants to prevent illness, reduce the effects of aging and to prolong life. Free radicals are unstable molecules that cause oxidative stress on cells throughout the body. This oxidative stress damages the cells and can cause illness. Antioxidants continuously work to prevent this damage by strengthening the cells. Vitamin C, E, glutathione, lipoic acid and Coenzyme Q10 make up what is known as the antioxidant network. These antioxidants work together to restore health and maintain a body's overall well-being.
Key words: antioxidants, free radicals, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, glutathione, lipoic acid, CoQ10
Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and other natural compounds that are produced by the body and that occur naturally in many foods. (Packer 1999) Antioxidants work together in the body to preserve health and strength into old age. They protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive particles that can injure healthy cells and tissue. (Packer 1999) Free radicals are created through normal energy production. There are also substances in the environment that can trigger the production of free radicals. Some examples include smoke, pollutants, inflammation, processed foods, stress and radiation. (Packer 1999) By controlling free radicals, antioxidants can improve daily life, control the aging process and postpone premature death. The key to preventing disease and extending the life span of an individual is to keep the right balance of antioxidants in the body.
The body requires a large amount of oxygen for metabolism and also to break down the nutrients required for energy production. (Frank 1994) Energy is essential for every physical activity that the body takes part in. This same energy production can cause trouble within the body because it also produces free radicals. "Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage cell structures and can ultimately lead to cancer, heart disease and numerous other illnesses." (Frank 1994) These molecules are unstable because they have lost one or more of their paired electrons. When a free radical comes in contact with an oxygen atom, it will steal the electron it requires from the oxygen atom. This starts the free radical reaction and creates a cycle that will continue until the free radicals are stopped. The free radicals stop attacking when they are able to regain their electron pair. There are trillions of cells in the body and cell oxidation can develop about 10,000 times every day. (Frank 1994) Excessive free radical reactions are called oxidative stress and leads to health issues and premature aging. To avoid these issues there has to be a balance between free radicals and antioxidants.
Antioxidants are present in every organ and cell within the body. Antioxidants are present in food and in supplement form and can help prevent almost any illnesses. One antioxidant can not do all the work on its own. The body requires all of the antioxidants working together to function properly. The antioxidants do have certain areas of the body where they can benefit the most. Every cell in the body has a fat based outer shell (membrane) and water based center (nucleus) and depends on a different antioxidant for each area. (Antioxidants 1994) For example, vitamin E and coenzyme q10 are fat soluble and protect the cell membrane and the mitochondria. Vitamin C and glutathione protect the nucleus. Lipoic acid can go anywhere in the body and can help recover other antioxidants when they have been oxidized by free radicals. (Antioxidants 1994)
Some antioxidants can be created by food eaten and others can only be obtained by supplementation. There are hundreds of naturally occurring antioxidants. Some researchers believe there is a productive relationship between five key antioxidants. These five antioxidants have been named the antioxidant network because they are the most researched and show to offer the most benefits. "These special antioxidants work together to assist and strengthen the whole body system." (Packer 1999) When combined they help increase the activity of one another, helping to keep balance. They are special because they can recycle or regenerate one another after they have demolished a free radical. (Packer 1999) The five main antioxidants included in the antioxidant network is Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Glutathione, lipoic acid and coenzyme q10. (Packer 1999)
Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is one of the most well know antioxidants. Its main job is to connect the fat soluble to the water soluble antioxidants. Vitamin C helps maintain healthy collagen in the skin, repair damaged tissue, promote healthy teeth and bones and boost the immune system. (Brown 2001) Humans can not produce vitamin C on their own and must obtain it through food sources and by taking supplements. Cells in the body suffer damage when exposed to oxygen or oxidation. Oxidation causes aging of the skin and aging of other organs and tissues in the body. Vitamin C, when fighting free radicals, helps prevent wrinkles and many other illnesses associated with oxidation. This includes cataracts, arthritis, heart disease and cancer. (Brown 2001) Consuming vitamin C is also important to maintain a functioning immune system and to reduce the length of symptoms from viruses and the common cold. (Brown 2001) Vitamin C is considered to be an anti-inflammatory and helps the body fight inflammatory diseases. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin C supplementation to produce a positive antioxidant effect is 250 mg daily.
Vitamin E is one of the antioxidants available in both food and supplement form. It is a fat soluble, lipid based vitamin that can help heal and block damage caused by free radicals within the body's natural process of digestion and cellular repair. (Shaffer 2005) Vitamin E consists of a group of eight different isomers. Vitamin E contains four different tocotrienols named alpha, beta, gamma and delta. (Shaffer 2005) It also contains four different tocopherols named alpha, beta, gamma and delta. (Shaffer 2005) Although all forms of vitamin E are important to body functions, alpha-tocopherol is the only form that is maintained in the body. Alpha-tocopherol shows the most nutritional qualities of vitamin E. Vitamin E reduces oxidative stress in the body. It coats the cell wall with a protective layer of lipids reducing the effects of the aging process. It also can help prevent bad cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, eye disorders and reduces the risk of certain types of cancer. (Shaffer 2005) The natural form of alpha-tocopherol is listed as d-alpha-tocopherol. The recommended daily allowance for vitamin E as a supplement is at least 30mg daily but to achieve full antioxidant benefits it may be increased to 100mg per day.
Glutathione peroxidase (GSH) is the body's most abundant naturally produced antioxidant. (Packer 1999) It is the body's primary water soluble antioxidant. GSH is a compound classified as a tripeptide. It is made up of three amino acids named cysteine, glutamic acid and glycine. (Packer 1999) The body produces the largest amount of GSH in the liver because it is used to detoxify harmful compounds so they can be removed through the bile. The liver also supplies the GSH directly to the bloodstream into the red and white blood cells. This keeps the red and white blood cells healthy to increase the disease fighting power found within immune system. (Packer 1999) GSH is also important for the transport and storage of amino acids. These are the building blocks of protein. GSH can protect the vision, boost the immune system, help turn carbohydrates into energy and prevent the buildup of oxidized fats that can contribute to atherosclerosis. (Packer 1999) It also can protect cells against damage that can lead to cancer. The primary job of GSH is to rid the body of hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is produced when fats and proteins become oxidized by free radicals. (Packer 1999) Hydrogen peroxide is not a free radical but it reacts with other substances to form a hydroxyl radical. Hydroxyl radicals are almost unstoppable and completely damage healthy cells. (Packer 1999) There is no recommended daily allowance for GSH and supplements are not recommended. GSH is found in almost every fruit and vegetable and should be consumed in its natural form daily.
Lipoic acid is called a "universal antioxidant" because it is both water and fat soluble. (Jesudason 2005) It can penetrate tissues composed mainly of fat as well as those tissues composed of water. It is produced by the body in small amounts so it must be supplemented. Lipoic acid can trap free radicals throughout the body. Lipoic acid can also recycle other antioxidants such as vitamin C, E, CoQ10 and glutathione. (Jesudason 2005) It also helps B vitamins convert protein, carbohydrates and fats into energy. (Jesudason 2005) Lipoic acid can restore itself back into full antioxidant form after attacking the free radicals. It also helps increase glutathione within the body. Lipoic acid helps convert glucose to energy, can detoxify the body, fight inflammation of the skin and help stabilize blood sugar. (Jesudason 2005) There is not a recommended daily allowance for lipoic acid but studies have show that taking 50 mg twice a day is enough to show antioxidant support and provide free radical protection. This dosage may also prevent a lot of other health problems such as Alzheimer's disease, stroke, atherosclerosis and glaucoma. (Jesudason 2005)
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), also called quinine, is a fat-soluble coenzyme. An enzyme is a protein found in living cells that brings about chemical change. (Bor-Jen 2012) A coenzyme works with an enzyme to produce a particular reaction. (Bor-Jen 2012) CoQ10 is a substance that helps provide energy to cells in all organisms that breathe oxygen. CoQ10 is found in every cell in the body and is responsible for delivering the electrical charges to the mitochondria, which are the powerhouses of the cells. (Ben-Jen 2012) The largest amount of mitochondria in the body can be found in the heart. CoQ10 is used to treat heart disease because it improves circulation throughout the body. It prevents plaque build up in the arteries by increases the amount of blood and oxygen to the heart. (Ben-Jen 2012) CoQ10 also prevents blood clots and helps in lowering high blood pressure. CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant and protects the body from free radical damage. (Ben-Jen 2012) It increases the collagen and elastin in the skin to allow for the repair of damaged cells. (Ben-Jen 2012) CoQ10 improves the immune system and also keeps blood sugar at lower levels. (Ben-Jen 2012) There is not a recommended daily allowance listed for CoQ10. Professionals suggest consuming 30mg to 100 mg daily for antioxidant protection. Those who suffer from heart disease may be prescribed higher doses for antioxidant protection and for the repair of damaged tissue.
There are numerous antioxidants required for the body to function properly. Vitamin C, E, glutathione, lipoic acid and CoQ10 are considered to be the most important and have been termed the antioxidant network. They have been proven to work together to prevent illness, reduce the effects of aging and provide an overall sense of well-being. Taking these antioxidants, along with exercise and eating a well balanced diet will provide added years for a long and healthy life. The pure form of these antioxidants should be taken with no added fillers or substitutions. Trusted antioxidants can be found at a local whole food retailer but always read the labels to be sure of the exact contents.
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