The cell membranes of the human body are constantly under attack by free radicals and pro-oxidants. These highly reactive molecules can bind to and destroy cellular membranes as well as other cellular components. A free radical is a molecule that contains a highly reactive, unpaired electron, and a pro-oxidant is a molecule that can promote oxidative damage.
Most of the free radicals zipping through our bodies are actually produced during such normal metabolic processes as energy production, detoxification and immune defense mechanisms. In fact, the major source of free radical damage in the body is the oxygen molecule.
The Fickle Oxygen Molecule
It’s ironic that oxygen, the molecule that gives us life, is also the same molecule that can do us the most harm. Just as oxygen can rust iron, when toxic oxygen molecules are allowed into our cells, free radical or oxidative damage occurs. Our cells protect against free radical and oxidative damage with the help of enzymes and their ability to incorporate valuable antioxidant compounds from our diet, such as beta carotene, vitamin C and E, and sulfur-containing amino acids.
Although the body’s own regeneration of free radicals is important, the environment contributes greatly to the free radical “load” of an individual. Cigarette smoking for example, greatly increases an individual’s free radical load. Many of the harmful effects of smoking are related to extremely high levels all free radicals being inhaled, depleting key antioxidant nutrients like vitamin C and beta carotene.
Other external sources of free radicals include ionizing radiation, chemotherapeutic drugs, air pollutants, pesticides, anesthetics, aromatic hydrocarbons,fried food, solvents, alcohol and formaldehyde. These compounds greatly stress the body’s antioxidant mechanisms. Individuals exposed to these compounds will require antioxidant intakes.
More and more research demonstrates that a high intake of antioxidant nutrients can help prevent major degenerative diseases in our society as well as slow down the aging process. Consuming a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables is the first step in achieving higher antioxidant levels. The 2nd step is taking extra antioxidant nutrients.
The following supplements are recommended:
Vitamin C – 1000 to 3000 milligrams daily
Vitamin E – 400 to 800 IU daily
Selenium – 200 mcg daily
Excerpted from the book “UNDERSTANDING FATS AND OILS” by Michael T. Murray ND,
and Jade Beautler, RRT, RCP