Antioxidants have been one of the nutritional buzzwords thrown around over the past 10 years. We are constantly being told of the benefits of these magical substances and that we should be consuming copious amounts. There seems to also be a confusion surrounding the question as to whether we need to supplement our diet with antioxidant vitamins. Conservative nutritionists would have us believe we get all the antioxidants we need from our food while the makers of natural and synthetic vitamins tell us wee need to supplement with antioxidants.
My research suggests that we probably do not need antioxidant supplements till we reach our mid 30’s. Our body’s ability to make antioxidants begins to decline around this age and from this time on we need to either ingest anti oxidants in the diet or as a supplement. Foods rich in antioxidants include fruits, vegetables and in particular the highly colored berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries) are abundant in the anthocyanidins one of nature’s most powerful antioxidants. Some people believe the mass produced fruit and vegetables of today which are pre picked, gassed , sprayed and artificially ripened , do not contain significant amounts of anti-oxidants compared to perhaps the fruit that may grow in your back garden. Antioxidants develop in the fruit when it is close to becoming ripe and is nature’s way of protecting the fruit from rancidity (oxidation). If the fruit is picked green, it is logical that perhaps it will not contain the same content of anti oxidants. For this reason some people believe as stated above, it is necessary to supplement with antioxidants. My personal believe is that we probably need to do both. I supplement with a high dose antioxidant which contains Vitamins A, C and E, Gingko Biloba, Grape seed, Pine bark and curcuminoids from a turmeric base.
To understand antioxidants and why they are necessary for disease prevention and have anti ageing benefits one must understand a little bit of science. Oxidation is an inevitable process of nature. If we slice an apple through and leave it exposed to air for a short period of time it will start to go brown on the exposed surface. This is oxidation. Leave it long enough and the apple will rot. If you leave your car on the beach for a few months you’ll find the salt air will rust the metal on your car, this is also oxidation. In countries that use salt on the road for snow and ice, cars definitely have a shortened life span due to accelerated rust caused by the salt. Our bodies are no different to these processes and are also exposed to oxidation.
Free radicals are produced in our body through the process of oxidation. These are basically unstable molecules which if not neutralized quickly by antioxidants can damage the cells and the DNA in our body. Oxidation is therefore responsible over a period of time for many of the degenerative diseases we see with ageing such as osteoarthritis, heart disease, cataract, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. A simple example of oxidation causing cancer is the effect of Ultraviolet rays from the sun on the skin. Over a period of time the suns rays cause oxidative damage to our skin which eventually leads to skin cancers. Other cancers may form in the body due to a similar process. For example, bowel cancer may be triggered in genetically susceptible people from exposure over a period of time to toxins in the diet creating the same oxidative damage to the bowel lining.
I believe antioxidant supplementation is a vital part of any anti ageing program.