Every day we are bombarded with pathogens and pollutants. Even the sun, the source of life on our planet, zaps us with dangerous forms of radiation. Fortunately, the human body has an effective detoxification system-and healthy lifestyle choices can strengthen it. Simply consuming a rainbow of brightly colored fruits and vegetables can help fight off life's "slings and arrows," protecting us against daily assaults on our vitality that can eventually lead to chronic health problems.
Antioxidants are protective components in plants, comprising a vast range of substances-including more than 600 carotenoids (fat-soluble defenders within cell membranes) and more than 4,000 polyphenols (water-soluble defenders that roam throughout the body). Working together or separately, antioxidants seek out and neutralize free radicals, unstable molecules that compromise the structure and activity of healthy cells.
Start with Diet
Study after scientific study points to the benefits of a plant-based diet, rich in a variety of antioxidants. Often the pigment (or color) in plant foods makes a useful guide to the antioxidant protection they offer.
Also consider antioxidant-rich herbs and spices. Consuming a half to one clove of garlic a day (or its equivalent) can lower cholesterol up to 9 percent, for example. Dark chocolate, teas, and red wine are also high in polyphenols and other healing antioxidants.
Look for natural carotenoids (alpha and beta carotene, lutein, lycopene, tocopherols and tocotrienols, zeaxanthin) as well as the vitamin C family (including flavonoids) and vitamin E in daily multiples and other nutritional supplements. Here are some specific highlights from current research on their health-protective benefits.
Cancer protection: Polyphenols not only work as antioxidants but also impact basic cellular mechanisms in fighting cancer. Green tea is high in polyphenols called catechins, which help fight DNA damage and jump-start programmed cancer cell death. No wonder this tea and its extract are associated with lower incidences of bladder, breast, colon, esophagus, liver, lung, ovarian, prostate, and stomach cancers. "Garlic has also been touted as a potential cancer preventive," says Marcia Zimmerman, MEd, CN. That's thanks to its vitamin C, trace amounts of A and E, bioflavonoids, selenium, and other antioxidants.
Cardiovascular health: In addition to regular exercise and not overeating, mitochondria (the body's primary cellular energy source) play an important role in preventing cell aging and protecting cardiac function. A vitamin-like antioxidant, CoQ10 is critical to cellular energy production, antiaging, oral health, mental function, and cancer prevention-not to mention cardiovascular health. Not only does CoQ10 increase survival rates in congestive heart failure, but it also helps lower blood pressure without medication.
Vitamin E inhibits oxidation of LDL (lousy) cholesterols, lowering the risk of heart disease in large epidemiological studies. It works best with other antioxidants including carotenes, CoQ10, selenium, and vitamin C. Antioxidant E may boost the anticlotting effects of certain drugs like Coumadin, though, so check with your physician about this vitamin if you take blood thinners.
Cognitive function: Polyphenols in fruit, particularly blueberries, protect against age-related memory loss and motor function, according to research at Tufts University. Resveratrol, a polyphenol in red wine, appears to modulate the debilitating neurological mechanisms involved in Alzheimer's and Huntington's diseases as well as stroke, suggesting that this antioxidant protects against degeneration of brain cells.
Antioxidant flavones in the herb Ginkgo biloba help slow memory loss, improve blood circulation to the brain and nerves, and prevent oxidative damage. This herb also works to prevent platelets from sticking together to form blood clots, helping patients recover from stroke.
Diabetes: Garlic helps control blood sugar levels. Mixed tocopherols in vitamin E reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, making them also useful for people with Type 2 diabetes, Australian research suggests. In more than 1,500 adults with Type 2 diabetes, blood levels of carotenoids (including carotenes, beta cryptoxanthin, lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin) were low, especially among those with impaired glucose metabolism.
The bioflavonoid quercetin may protect membranes in the lens of the eye, preventing vision problems associated with diabetes. And antioxidants in curcumin (a component of the spice turmeric) appear to inhibit diabetic retinopathy.
Skin: The body's largest organ of detoxification, the skin offers an obvious way to assess free-radical damage in aging. Bioflavonoids, vitamin C, and fat-soluble antioxidants (including vitamin E) fight ultraviolet damage by reducing the number of sunburn cells. Both orally and topically, green tea helps protect skin from sun damage.
Vision: "Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss among people over 50," says Zimmerman. Antioxidants, including zinc, are cost-effective ways to improve the quality of life among those with macular degeneration. The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, found in both the macula and lens of the human eye, are also beneficial in preventing and treating AMD.
selected sources 7-Syndrome Healing by Marcia Zimmerman, CN, & Jayson Kroner, CSN ($16.95, Nutrition Solution, 2007) } "Cost-Effectiveness of Vitamin Therapy for Age-Related Macular Degeneration" by D. B. Rein et al., Ophthalmology, 2/21/07 } "Effects of Curcumin on Retinal Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Diabetes" by R. A. Kowluru and M. Kanwar, Nutr Metab, 4/16/07 } "Health Benefits of Herbs and Spices . . ." by L. C. Tapsell et al., Med J Aust, 8/21/06 } "Polyphenols and Cancer Cell Growth" by M. Kampa et al., Rev Physiol Biochem Pharmacol, 6/6/07 } Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC ($24.95, Penguin Group/Avery, 2006) } "Resveratrol-a Boon for Treating Alzheimer's Disease?" by T. S. Anekonda, Brain Res Rev, 9/06
Wouldn't you be interested in an antioxidant that was many times more potent than vitamins C and E? What if this substance reinforced your body's own antioxidant system?
I first was introduced to green tea in 1998 when I heard a lecture by an epidemiologist about his research on Green Tea.