Oxidants and Antioxidants: The Fight for Your Body

By James Jackson, Ph.D.

As you are reading this article, your cells are having a raging battle for survival! This battle is taking place at the molecular level where the enemies are things called oxidants, or free radicals, and the defenders are called antioxidants.

If the free radicals in your body are not neutralized, your body will rust away,” just like a car.

Your next question is “What are oxidants or free radicals (henceforth called FR), and why are they trying to kill me?” Just by breathing oxygen and generating energy you produce a lot of oxygen radicals. They are also produced as a result of stress inside or outside the body. Some FRs are generated from Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS); an example is hydrogen peroxide. Most FRs are unstable oxygen molecules, lacking an electron and are like moving molecular magnets, stripping electrons from your cell’s membrane, protein, and DNA.

For those few of you who have an interest in chemistry, the chemical structures of some of the FRs are:
1. Superoxide anion = O2-.
2. Singlet oxygen = 1O2
(..O.. ..O.. -> . .O. + . free electron)
3. Nitric oxide = NO.
4. HO. = Hydroxyl free radical
5. H2O2 = Hydrogen Peroxide-ROS

Normally your body has enough antioxidant enzymes to neutralize FRs as they are generated. However, when there are more FRs generated as a result of excess psychological or physiological
stress, called oxidative stress, you need additional antioxidants. These come from vitamins and minerals, things your body cannot make! When oxidative stress occurs, things get serious! Some common stressors that produce FRs or ROS are: cigarette smoke, chlorine, alcohol, radiation, pesticides, toxic chemicals, sunlight, pollution, carbon monoxide, preservatives, and processed
foods, just to name a few. Psychological stress comes more from thinking about the stressful situation than from the actual situation itself!

Why is oxidation dangerous? To give you an idea of what oxidation does, oxidation causes iron to rust, old rubber tires to turn brittle, meat and butter to turn rancid, and peeled apples and potatoes to turn brown. If the FRs in your body are not neutralized, your body will “rust away,” just like a car.

What form of “rust” takes place in my body? All the effects of aging and many degenerative diseases are related to FRs. They are thought to cause premature aging, wrinkling of skin, hardening of the arteries, arthritis, cataracts, macular degeneration, cancer, and various CNS diseases. If one looks at the NIH statistics, the top three causes of death in people age 65 and over for whites, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics are heart disease, cancer, and stroke. For Native Americans, they are heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Also, 43% of Americans (of all races and cultures) over 65 will spend time in a nursing home at a cost of $40,000 to $100,000 a year. One in 25 people over the age of 65 will have significant vision loss. In the U.S., heart failure and neoplasm (cancer) cause over half the deaths of people over the age of 45, about 144 per hour.

Dr. Bruce Ames estimates that each of the 80 trillion cells in the body suffers 10,000 “hits” a day from FRs. In addition, FRs increase with age, and an “elderly” person has nine times the
frequency of mutations in the DNA than infants. In a 70-year period, the body is said to produce over 17 tons of FRs. This is with an average life expectancy of 77.8 years.

So, then, after all this good news, what can I do to reduce my risks of all this damage? Antioxidants, antioxidants, and antioxidants! There are 50 things you need to remain healthy and survive; about 50 of these are nutrients! That is just the start. As I mentioned in a previous Health Hunter Newsletter article, “D.A.M.E. Your Food, Full Speed Ahead to Good Health,” you must eat then Digest, Absorb, Metabolize, and Excrete the metabolites of nutrients. Any block in this process is the same as not eating them!

Many of these essential nutrients are minerals. They help make antioxidant enzymes, the first line of cellular defense. These minerals are a “transitional” type, able to receive or give up an electron. Things that give up an electron are oxidized (“oxidants”), while things that receive an electron are “reduced.” Some of these minerals that make up the enzymes are copper and zinc (superoxide dismutase-1), manganese (superoxide dismutase-2), iron (catalase), and selenium (glutathione peroxidase).

The second line-of-defense is from phytochemicals, or chemicals in food—carotenoids, flavonoids, lycopene, beta-carotene, lutein, etc., fat soluble and water soluble vitamins. The water soluble vitamins, C and B, protect the proteins and structures in the cell cytoplasm. The fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K (mainly A and E), protect the membranes surrounding the cell and nucleus.

O.K., you say, but I get all this stuff I need from food! Not really. According to the USDA and NIH statistics, on any given day of the people in the U.S.:
• 41% did not eat any fruit or vegetables
• 82% did not eat any cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower
• 73% did not eat any vitamin C rich fruit or vegetables
• 80% did not eat any vitamin A rich fruit or vegetables
• 84% did not eat high fiber grain food
• 89% did not eat the RDA of fruits or vegetables
• 80% of Americans are low in magnesium (used in over 300 enzyme reactions)

The next question is how much and what should I take? It depends on how much you have or need, what is your stress level, how active are you, how old are you, are you male or female, how much do you weigh, do you have a family history of any type of degenerative disease, etc.? Also, you may be wondering, do the antioxidants work? If you ask the drug companies, they would say no. However, more and more data prove them wrong. Some evidence that they do work are:
• The risk of stroke was 73% lower in people who consumed the most bioflavonoids than those who consumed the least.
• Men with lower selenium levels had 4 times the risk of dying from stroke than those with the highest level. (Keli SO et al., Arch Intern Med. 1996 Mar 25, 156(6):637-42; Virtamo J et al., Am J Epidemiol. 1985 Aug, 122(2):276-82).
• The risk of having a 2nd non- fatal heart attack was reduced 77% in men taking 400 to 800 I.U. of vitamin E a day. It also slowed the progression of heart disease by reducing the oxidation of LDL. (CHAOS Study, Lancet. 1996 Mar 23, 347(9004):781-6; Hodis HN, et al., JAMA. 1995 Jun 21, 273(23):1849-54).
• One to 3 grams of niacin a day can increase HDL and decrease LDL and triglycerides. (Lab Medicine.2002 Apr, 4(33):270).
• One in 500 people in the U.S. over the age of 50 has Parkinson’s disease and 60,000 new cases are diagnosed a year. Increased oxidative damage may play a role in many degenerative diseases. Vitamins A, C, E, CoQ-10, and omega-3 fatty acids were useful in preventing or delaying the onset of neurodegenerative diseases. (Beal ME, Ann Neurol. 1995 Sep, 38(3):357- 66. Mecocci P, et al., Free Radic Biol Med. 1999 Feb, 26(3-4): 303-8; Fahn S, Ann Neuro, 1992, 32(suppl):S128-32)
• Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of blindness in some countries, especially India.
• Iron deficiency is widespread. According to a U.N. report, 40% of the world’s population has iron deficiency and 15% lack iodine. A lack of iron lowers a child’s I.Q. 5 to 7 points, while a lack of
iodine lowers it 13 more points. Iron deficiency in mothers causes 18 million children to be born mentally impaired.
• Folic acid deficiency causes 200,000 severe birth defects a year in 80 countries.
• Total cancer mortality was reduced 50% in those taking 200 mcg of selenium daily compared to placebo, and the risk of developing many types of cancer decreased 48% to 74%.

How can you tell if you have enough antioxidants to combat the oxidants? Some time in the near future you should have your blood levels measured(similar
to checking the oil, transmission fluid, and air in the tires of your car). I suggest that you consider the Health Hunter/Beat The Odds Days at The Center held in April and October. You can pick the health panel you want, based on your family history, or just see for yourself how your antioxidant levels really are. It is the only way to see if the foods you are eating are being digested, absorbed,
metabolized, and excreted.