Antioxidants and Survival, Part 1

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Keeping healthy and fighting disease is what your body’s immune system is all about. What does your body use as weapons in the arsenal to stave off the toxins you’re exposed to every day? Antioxidants.  This may sound too New Age-y for you, but many in  conventional Western medicine acknowledge the importance of getting sufficient antioxidants from your diet or by other means. Human beings have one of the longest lifespans in the animal kingdom due to a lot of antioxidants in our diet. After a major disaster, that lifespan is in jeopardy, and your food storage should contain a lot of different sources of antioxidants.

This topic is something I’ve haven’t discussed before, and not all the science supports the health benefits of antioxidants (especially supplements), but the medically self-reliant should know about nutrition and what foods are most likely to keep their people healthy in good times or bad. So  what the heck are antioxidants, what do they do, and how do you get them?

Antioxidants are a class of compounds that are capable of preventing the damage caused by oxidation of other molecules in your body by… Oxygen! Yes, the oxygen in the air you need to breathe causes damage. Oxidation, when it affect your car’s chassis, leads to rust, and in your body, oxidation is essentially biological rusting. Antioxidants, some produced in your body naturally and some ingested, inhibit oxidation by fighting free radicals. Free what?

Free radicals. Free radicals are a waste product you naturally produce as a result of normal living and aging. They’re your biological response to environmental toxins like cigarette smoke, UV rays from the sun, chemicals, radiation, and more. Free radicals also form anytime you have inflammation in your body and with physical exertion.

Free radical molecules aren’t complete; they’re missing one or more electrons. The incomplete molecules go after other molecules and proteins to steal their electrons. When they do this, they damage cell structures and even your DNA, and form even more free radicals. Cell walls “rust”, so to speak, and become leaky, causing cell death. Without antioxidants, free radicals run rampant, leading to tissue damage, signs of aging, and the inability of your immune system to nip diseases in the bud. Free radicals are linked to many different diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, coronary artery disease, Parkinson’s, and many more.

How do antioxidants work? Antioxidants donate electrons to these free radicals, rendering them harmless, without becoming free radicals themselves. They serve to defend your cells from damage and resist the effects of exposure to pollutants and other toxins.

Other important possible benefits of antioxidants include:

• Assisting in cell repair
• Processing toxic elements like mercury and arsenic out of your body
• Increasing your body’s natural defense capabilities by shielding your DNA from free radical attacks
• Promoting the self-destruction of early cancer cells

Different Types of Antioxidants

Antioxidants are classified in different ways, and each protects different parts of your cells. Some, like Vitamins A, E, and alpha-lipoic acid, protect the cell walls, mostly made of fatty lipids, and others like Vitamin C and glutathione, protect the inside of cells, mostly made of water. You’ll need both types to prevent oxidative effects that might lead to biological rust.

As I said earlier, you make some of these in your body, but you make less and less as you get older. Some of your natural antioxidants are found in just about every cell, with names like catalase, superoxide dismutase, and glutathione.

You need a wide array of antioxidants to provide you with optimal benefits. Let’s talk about glutathione. This is considered the “master” antioxidant because it maximizes the effect of all the others, including coQ10, Vitamin C, alpha-lipoic acid, plus the antioxidants you ingest in your diet.

Glutathione helps process toxins from your cells and protects you from the damaging effects of radiation, chemicals, and environmental pollutants. Your body’s ability to produce glutathione decreases with aging. However, there are nutrients that can promote glutathione production, such as high-quality whey protein, curcumin, raw dairy, eggs, and grass-fed meat.

Another strong antioxidant is Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA). It helps reduce inflammation, gets toxic metals out of your system, and even enhances the body’s sensitivity to insulin, something especially important in Type 2 diabetics. It’s also the antioxidant that protects you from developing Alzheimer’s disease. Alpha-lipoic acid might even help regenerate other antioxidants.

Then there’s CoQ10 (Ubiquinone), an antioxidant converted to ubiquinol and produced in quantity in young people but less so in older folks. It’s used by all the cells in your body, and helps produce energy, as well as maintaining heart health and boosting the immune system. It has other effects as well, like keeping blood pressure in line and slowing the natural aging process. If you’re older, you might consider taking this in supplements.

Some antioxidants aren’t made naturally and have to be taken in your diet. One is resveratrol, also called a flavonoid. This is found in grapeseed, some vegetables, and red wine. It’s thought to help with blood pressure, heart health, and helps your ability to fight inflammation. It might even help prevent Alzheimer’s.

Another dietary antioxidant is the family of Carotenoids. These are the substances that give vegetables their colors, like carrots, peppers, and tomatoes. Your body converts them into Vitamin A.

One antioxidant you all know about is Vitamin C. Not only is it thought to be helpful to decrease the duration of some respiratory infections, it’s a major factor in battling oxidation from free radicals, and helps you maintain normal production of collagen, vital to skin, bones, tendons, and ligaments. You can get vitamin C from raw, organic vegetables and fruits, especially citrus. When taking a vitamin C supplement, many recommend one made with “liposomal technology”, which is thought to make the nutrient more accessible to your cells.

Finally, there’s Vitamin E. Natural vitamin E is a family of several different compounds. You can get all these vitamin E compounds from a balanced diet composed of wholesome foods, but only one or two from supplements. If you take supplements, make sure you let your doctor know. Taking too much may lead to health issues.

In Part 2, we’ll discuss what antioxidant-rich foods should be in your storage and supplies, some supplements that might have benefit, and lifestyle changes that help antioxidants in their battle to keep you healthy.

Joe Alton, MD

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