Following up on my last blog post regarding the dangers of inflammation, I thought the next obvious choice was what to do about it! Inflammation is so ubiquitous, and our lifestyles really require far more than the passive intake of antioxidants we get from food – we really need quite a lot more.
Why is that? Mainly because of the poor nutritional quality of modern food (yes, our fruit and vegies are poor quality too – think pesticides, herbicides & cold storage), and high stress levels that seem almost impossible to escape (unless you live in a hut in the middle of nowhere!).
The process of oxidation
Basically, oxidative stress occurs due to excess production of free radicals OR a reduction in the antioxidant capacity of the body OR both. Reactive oxygen species (free radicals & peroxides) roam around the body and are highly reactive and unstable, easily binding chemically to other molecules in the body. Because they can bind so easily, they often attach themselves to DNA and other cellular components, lipids, proteins and amino acids and steal their electrons, damaging and mutating these substances.
Ageing is a good example of this. The reason we get old and wrinkly is because of oxidation. Unchecked, this process can result in some fairly serious complications. Cancer, a disease caused by dysregulation of cellular mechanisms and faulty or damaged DNA, may result due to uncontrolled free radical formation.
All inflammatory diseases (autoimmune, cardiovascular, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, cancer, etc) have a cause & effect relationship with oxidation. Oxidative stress causes inflammation, and inflammation causes oxidative stress. The only way to prevent the cycle from going on is to stop it at it’s source and if that can’t be done, at least treat the cause and not the symptoms.
How do antioxidants help?
Antioxidants donate their electrons to free radicals (effectively neutralising them) without being critically damaged. Therefore, the more of them we have running around, the better! Reducing stress, making sure we get enough sleep, exercising and eating well are all important components to make sure our bodies are producing enough antioxidants, which happens mainly through the master antioxidant, glutathione (produced in the liver). There are various ways of both supplementing antioxidants and upregulating the action/production of glutathione.
Vitamin A, C & E have the strongest antioxidant action of all the vitamins. Coenzyme Q10 is an amazing antioxidant and particularly good for those with heart disease or hypertension.
There are loads of herbs that have antioxidant actions. Tumeric is probably the best known, but green tea, garlic, ginger, ginkgo biloba, burdock, St Mary’s Thistle, and many others are also fantastic. The best thing about herbs is that they are multi-talented and have a range of different therapeutic actions.
The amino acids cysteine, glutamic acid and glycine are used to produce glutathione, and these can be supplemented. N.acteyl cysteine produces the best results. Methionine is also useful. Glutathione itself can be supplemented, but there are few forms that are able to pass through the digestive system and be adequately absorbed & utilised.
Of course, we should be getting antioxidants through food where possible. Vegetables & fruit, particularly anything green, red or orange have high concentrations. Research shows that organic food is higher in these substances than larger, commercially grown crops. (1)
If you are keen on supplementing antioxidants, DO NOT SELF PRESCRIBE! Make sure you speak to your natural healthcare professional – they will have the best advice and be able to give you direction on which is the suitable for you and the correct dosage.
(1) Crinnion, W.J. (2010). Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and may provide health benefits for the consumer.Altern Med Rev. Apr;15(1):4-12.