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For those who are unaware, there exists an oxygen paradox. This implies that although oxygen is essential for life itself, it is also inherently dangerous to our existence. Scientific research shows that oxidative stress, or cell damage by free radicals, is the root cause of more than seventy chronic degenerative diseases, including the aging process, cancer, atherosclerosis, allergy, asthma, Alzheimer's Disease, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, cataracts, common cold, congestive heart failure, depression, exercise and fitness, Parkinson's Disease.
The human body derives its energy from the utilization of nutrients and oxygen as fuel. It also utilizes oxygen to help the immune system destroy foreign substances and combat diseases. The byproducts of this metabolic process can lead to the development of molecular agents that react with body tissues in a process called oxidation. While this process is a natural consequence of the energy generation system, its byproducts, or "free radicals" can damage healthy cells.
Free radicals are mainly oxygen molecules or atoms that have at least one unpaired electron in their outer orbit. They essential have an electrical charge and desire to try to get an electron from any molecule or substance in the vicinity. They have such violent movement that they have been shown chemically to create bursts of light within the body. If these free radicals are not rapidly neutralized by an anti-oxidant, they react with other molecules in the body, and can cause damage that leads to cell mutation and destruction. This damage is referred to as oxidative stress.
In small numbers, free radicals help to fight off infection. In large amounts, however, they may harm tissue and DNA during oxidative stress. In order to ‘steal’ an electron, they may attack cell membranes, making a hole through them through which bacteria or virus can enter. Once inside the cell, free radicals may attack chromosomes, rewriting or destroying the genetic information. If this damage goes un-repaired, healthy cells may turn cancerous and existing cancer cells may multiply even faster.
Free radical production is enhanced by certain environmental and food derived toxins, and in part is thought to lead to many of the disease states we encounter. Environmental sources of free radicals include exposure to ionizing radiation (from industry, sun exposure, cosmic rays, and medical X-rays), ozone and nitrous oxide (primarily from automobile exhaust), heavy metals (such as mercury, cadmium, and lead), cigarette smoke (both active and passive), alcohol, unsaturated fat, and other chemicals and compounds from food, water, and air.
Fortunately, the body has its own arsenal of defenders, including enzyme systems, which help prevent severe damage from occurring. Additionally, the body can utilize "antioxidant" molecules to minimize the damage. Antioxidants are a class of nutrients which help the body to repair free radical damage.
Antioxidants work in several ways: they may reduce the energy of the free radical, stop the free radical from forming in the first place, or interrupt an oxidizing chain reaction to minimize the damage caused by free radicals.
The body produces several antioxidant enzymes, including superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, and glutathione peroxidase, that neutralize many types of free radicals. Supplements of these enzymes are available for oral administration. However, their absorption is probably minimal at best. Supplementing with nutrients which the body requires to make SOD, catalase, and glutathione peroxidase is considered as a better alternative. These building block nutrients include the minerals manganese, zinc, and copper for SOD and selenium for glutathione peroxidase.
The most commonly recommended antioxidants are Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Lutein, Beta Carotene, Cysteine (an amino acid), Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6, and Coenzyme Q10. Herbs, such as bilberry, turmeric (curcumin), grape seed or pine bark extracts, and ginkgo provide powerful antioxidant protection for the body. Some of the others are Alpha-lipoic acid, Bromelain, Catechin, Glucomannan, Green Tea, Rooibos, Lycopene, Pyruvate and Resveratrol.
Antioxidants are able to neutralize free radicals in the body. However, each time an antioxidant molecule interacts with an antioxidant, it also is neutralized; thus, a constant replenishing of antioxidants in the system is necessary.
Also, all antioxidants do not act in the same way. Different types are more effective against different free radicals. A balanced diet (or supplementation system) should therefore include antioxidants of several different types of enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and herbs.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is a sulfur-containing fatty acid, and is found inside every cell of the body. It helps generate the energy that keeps us alive and functioning. Alpha-lipoic acid is a key part of the metabolism that turns glucose (blood sugar) into energy. ALA is a vitamin-like antioxidant, also referred to as the “universal antioxidant” as it is soluble in both fat and water. Alpha-lipoic acid is being recognized for its great value as an antioxidant, as it is an excellent neutralizer of free radicals. One very interesting, unique and extremely useful finding about alpha-lipoic acid is that it may help regenerate other antioxidants that have been used up. In effect, it is even suggested that lipoic acid may do the work of other antioxidants in which the body is deficient.
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) – Bilberry is an antioxidant which is especially effective in connective tissue and blood vessels. This low growing wild shrub is found throughout Europe and North America. It grows in the woods in damp and acidic soils and is usually not cultivated. Its oval leaves are serrated and purplish black berries, size of a pea, develop a big depression at the top when they become fully ripe.
There are three main varieties of tea -- green, black, and oolong. The difference between the teas is in their processing. The leaves of oolong tea are partially fermented, and black tea is fully fermented whereas green tea is made from unfermented leaves and contains the highest concentration of powerful antioxidants called polyphenols. The antioxidant effects of green tea are said to be greater than vitamin C. Green Tea (Camellia sinensis) has long been used in Chinese medicine as a treatment for headaches, general body ache, poor digestion, depression, and to increase life expectancy.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) – This tropical perennial is a native to Asia, Africa and the West Indies. Its pointed long leaves hide the low lying cluster of flowers which rises from the middle of the plant. The vast majority of turmeric comes from India. Turmeric is one of the key ingredients in many curries, giving them color and flavor. The powerful antibacterial property combined with the antioxidants present in turmeric; make it a wonderful remedy for lowering blood cholesterol, preventing hardening of the arteries, treating circulating problems and menstrual disorders. Curcumin is the main active constituent and it, along with some other substances in this herb, has excellent antioxidant properties, which is claimed are as strong as vitamins C and E.
Although grapes are native to Asia near the Caspian Sea, they were brought to North America and Europe centuries ago and continue to be grown in these areas extensively. The plant has a climbing vine with large, jagged leaves, and its stem bark tends to peel. The color of the grapes may be green, red, or purple. There are various active compounds in grapes including vitamin E, flavonoids, linoleic acid, and compounds called procyanidins (also known as condensed tannins, pycnogenols, and oligomeric proanthocyanidins or OPCs) and are highly concentrated in grape seeds. The main active compounds in grape seed are proanthocyanidins—also called "OPCs" for oligomeric procyanidins or "PCOs" for procyanidolic oligomers—and are a class of nutrients belonging to the flavonoid family and are believed to have very potent antioxidant properties. In fact, supplementation with grape seed extract substantially increases levels of antioxidants in the blood.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) – This oldest surviving tree specie, dating back to millions of years has predominantly been grown in China till the 18th century. Then it came to Europe and from there to United States. Trees may live up to 1000 years and are usually grown in rich, well drained soil in sunny locations. Ginkgo is one of the most widely used and potent antioxidant. In fact, in Europe and the United States, ginkgo supplements are among the best-selling herbal medications and it consistently ranks as a top medicine prescribed in France and Germany too.
Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis), Afrikaans for "red bush", is a broom-like member of the legume family of plants and is used to make a tisane (herbal tea). Although, it is sometimes spelled rooibosch in accordance with the Dutch etymology, "roy-boss" remains the correct pronunciation. This nitrogen-fixing shrub is also commonly called South African red tea or simply red tea or bush tea, the product has been popular in South Africa for generations and is now consumed in many countries. Rooibos is grown only in the Cedarberg area in the Western Cape of South Africa and around the villages Clanwilliam and Citrusdal, which are situated to the north of Cape Town in South Africa. Many efforts to cultivate rooibos in other areas or countries with similar climates have failed. Apparently enough, rooibos needs a very specific climate and soil to grow.
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