Have you noticed that if you cut an apple and leave it outside it turns brown? Similarly, a cooked fish turns rancid if left at room temperature within a day or two! These two are examples of a normal process called oxidation.
Oxidation is a natural process that happens to all cells including the ones in your body. It happens when oxygen molecules come in contact with the cells or tissues of a plant, or any living thing, and changes them. This is why a cut apple browns within few minutes of leaving it exposed to air. While your body handles the process of oxidation efficiently, 1 or 2% of your cells can get damaged and produce what is called free radicals. Normal activities like breathing, digestion, or exercising undergo oxidation and generate free radicals as a byproduct. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that damage cells and tissue linings in your body.
How exactly do free radicals affect you?
Free radicals are unstable molecules carrying unpaired electrons. Free radicals target almost all kinds of molecules in the body. The major targets are fats (lipids), nucleic acids (DNA), and proteins (1). They are constantly on a quest to find another electron to stabilize itself. This sets off a series of chain reactions, creating a domino effect in the body. The free radicals robs a healthy cell of its electron to stabilize itself, in the process the healthy cell becomes an unstable free radical. The primary danger with free radicals is that when they attack cellular structures like DNA they create the seed for disease. So when the DNA of a cell is damaged, it starts generating newer cells with defective DNA. This is the basis of abnormal conditions that lead to health problems.
Problems of free radical damage
Free radicals adversely alter fat (lipids), proteins, and DNA and trigger a number of human diseases. Their damage causes cross linking of atomic structures. For example,
- If a DNA is cross linked it can cause degenerative diseases such as cancer.
- If a cross linking is between fat and protein structures it can cause premature aging and wrinkles.
- If it acts on fats (lipid molecules) it causes the formation of plaques, which cause stroke and heart disease.
Here are some diseases/conditions in which free radical damage has occurred(2).
- Auto-immune disorders/conditions
- Inflammatory joint disease
- Certain types of cancer
- Atherosclerosis (heart disease)
- Macular degeneration of the eye
- Premature aging
While oxidation and free radical generation is inevitable in all living cells. Our body has its own defense mechanisms to fight free radical damage. Fortunately, Mother Nature too offers us a wide variety of natural defenses in the form of pigments, phytonutrients, and vitamins and minerals that act against the oxidation and protect cells. These are called antioxidants.
Antioxidants and Eliminating Free Radical Damage
Antioxidants are your body’s best friends, they fight against oxidation-induced free radicals and protect your cells. This is why they are aptly termed ”antioxidants.” Research shows that our body uses its built-in antioxidant defenses as well as antioxidants from plant food sources to help cope with free radical damage. Technically speaking, an antioxidant is a stable molecule that can donate an electron to a free radical, and nullify its harmful effect. Antioxidants delay or inhibit cellular damage mainly through their free radical scavenging property (3).
Important Antioxidants and How They Help
OPC’S: OPCs or oligomeric proanthocyanidins are powerful antioxidant compounds present in grape seeds, pine bark, legumes, seeds, and certain fruits. They belong to the broad class of antioxidant group called polyphenols, another set of chain breaking antioxidants. They help by crossing the blood-brain barrier and protecting the nerves and tissues of the brain.
Carotenoids: Carotenoids are a group of orange-yellow pigments from carrots, squash, mangoes, tomatoes, pumpkins etc. that offer fat soluble antioxidants. It is a free radical chain reaction breaking antioxidant.
Vitamin E: It is another fat soluble antioxidant found in nuts, seeds, and legumes. The function of this antioxidant is to break the chain reaction once it has commenced.
Vitamin C: It is a water soluble antioxidant that is abundant in the citrus family. The role of vitamin C is to stop the chain reaction before it commences. It neutralizes the free radical and makes it stable.
The key to the best protection from free radicals is to consume plenty of fruits and vegetables. If five servings a day seems impossible you can strive to include a good quality antioxidant supplement along with regular consumption of fruits and vegetables. This way you gain maximum antioxidant protection from free radical damage and also lower your risk for degenerative diseases.
OptiHealth Product’s OPCXtra
To ensure you’re consuming enough OPCs in your daily diet, take a look at OPCXtra. OPCXtra is our super antioxidant drink mix in an isotonic formula made from a combination of six major sources of bioflavonoids. Four of the sources – Grape Seed Extract, Red Wine Extract, Pine Bark Extract, and Green Tea Extract – supply a group of powerful antioxidant bioflavonoids called Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins (OPC). Click here to learn more about OPCXtra.