Antioxidant as a panacea against free radicals

In an attempt to grab a negative electron, a free radical may attach itself to a cell membrane in or outside the cell, the wall of the blood vessel, carbohydrates, fats, proteins and the Deoxy ribonucleic Acid (DNA)/genetic material in the nucleus of the cell. These things that the free radicals get attached to will eventually be destroyed leading to the development of one chronic degenerative disease or the other.

This includes diabetes mellitus, arthritis, hypertension, aging, cancer etc. Metabolism of glucose in the mitochondria of the cell is an ongoing physiological process in the body. The free radical is a waste product released from this reaction, which must be neutralized to avoid damage.

Prevention of free radical damage
There are certain minerals and vitamins found in plants and the soil known as antioxidants. It is these antioxidants that neutralize the highly destructive free radicals and prevent them from damaging cells, tissues and organs in the body. It is the role of antioxidants to donate the missing electron to the free radical so that it does not randomly attach itself to other cells. If the free radical is allowed to do so it causes damage to the cell by a process known as oxidative stress.

Common antioxidants are vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene, alpha-lipoic acid, Co-enzyme Q10, selenium etc. These are capable of donating an electron to the free radical to neutralize it. Different antioxidants perform differently in the different sections of the body depending on their peculiar characteristics.

For example, vitamin C, which is water-soluble, performs better in the blood and plasma to neutralize free radicals in this compartment. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin and its area of maximum performance is the cell membrane that is predominantly loaded with fat. Glutathione is the antioxidant predominantly found inside the cells and most suitable to attack free radicals in there.

Alpha-lipoic acid is said to work both in and outside the cell. These vitamins and antioxidants are products of fruits and vegetables and in the most basic form of activity they release an electron to neutralize a free radical when they come in contact with one. Antioxidants, in the course of their duty do not work alone, they work as a chain, and each supporting the other; they work in synergy. They tend to become like free radicals when they give up their electron.

However, for this not to happen, there are some other antioxidants whose responsibility it is to help to regenerate other antioxidants.

In regenerating these other antioxidants, they prevent them from becoming free radicals and make them continuously available to neutralize the harmful free radicals. Two very important antioxidants that play this role are alpha-lipoic acid and vitamin C, which together regenerate vitamin E and glutathione to extend their life span.

There is a battle going on in the body always and this is between the free radicals and the antioxidants. The outcome of this battle depends on the side that has more ‘foot soldiers. If the antioxidants are more, they will overwhelm the free radicals and prevent oxidative stress and damage to the cells and tissues of the body. On the other hand, where there are more free radicals than antioxidants, oxidative stress occurs because not all the free radicals will get neutralized. When this continues for a sufficiently long time, the chronic degenerative diseases such as cancer and aging can set in. It is therefore, very important for us to always ensure that there are more antioxidants in the body than the free radicals.

These vitamins and others are found in plant leaves (vegetables), fruits, seeds nuts and grains. Vitamin C for example, is abundant in such fruits as orange, grape fruit, lemon, pawpaw (papaya), guava, mango and pineapple. Vegetables that have vitamin C are leafy greens such as kale, spinach, broccoli, Turnip greens and green kiwi. Others are yellow and red bell pepper, tomatoes, green peas and several types of berries.

It will be of immense benefit to all and sundry, if we would incorporate these into our meals especially at this season of Christmas when there is sure to be a lot of drinking and eating. Better still, we can make them our main meals.

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