Ask Santa for some Antioxidants this Christmas!

Written by December 2017 Phoebe Wynne-Lewis, BHSc, Dip Nat Med, Dip Herb Med – FxMed Technical Support

With the Festive Season looming- late nights, increased stress, work functions with excessive wine and rich food, a few cheeky cigarettes, BBQ’s with friends and family, time in the sun, air travel to holiday destinations are all about to take our calendar by storm!

It can be a fun-filled season, however a couple of months of this overindulgence and we are likely to limp into the New Year with the usual list of NY’s resolutions AND looking/feeling like washed up rock stars (without the fame and fortune!).

We have opened up the flood gates to free radical damage which can wreak havoc on our cellular structures leaving us feeling fatigued, moody and a lot older!

Free Radicals

In layman’s terms, free-radicals are bullies that start pushing everybody around, and encourage nice cells to become bullies as well. Just like most conflicts, the results are “free radical waste products” made up of our broken, injured and deformed cells. If our cells are weak, it is natural that our organs, tissues and skin will likewise become weakened.

Free radicals are unstable molecules produced by complex chemical processes in our body. Left to their own devices, they go on to damage otherwise healthy cells in a process called oxidation.

This is the same process that turns an apple brown. By simply breathing in oxygen, we create free radicals, which are responsible for the visible and invisible signs of aging.

Sometimes the body’s immune systems’ cells purposefully create them to neutralize viruses and bacteria. However, environmental factors such as UV rays, pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke and herbicides can also spawn free radicals. We also cause free-radical damage by not getting enough rest or sleep, not properly managing our stress responses, and not eating healthfully.

Free radicals can damage the DNA in every cell of our body. Normally, the body can handle free radicals, but if antioxidants are unavailable, or if the free-radical production becomes excessive, damage can occur.

Factors we experience during the festive season that open the flood gates to free radicals:

Sun damage – When skin is exposed to high levels of UV light, photo-oxidative damage is induced by the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). These ROS damage cellular lipids, proteins, and DNA, and they are considered to be the primary contributors to sunburn. UV radiation from the sun also damages the structural collagen that supports the walls of the skin’s tiny blood vessels. Astaxanthin, followed by beta-carotene and vitamin E has been shown to be one of the most powerful antioxidant combinations for helping protect the skin from ROS.

Air Travel – Commercial airline flights expose our body to higher levels of cosmic radiation than we get on the ground – approx 6 hours of flight equals the radiation you’d get from a chest x-ray. Plus there’s the added radiation from the x-ray machines at security.

Grilling/frying meats on the BBQ – Research has found cooking meat over a flame increases our exposure to cancer-causing ­carcinogens known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).The formation of HCAs depends on the presence of creatine, which is mostly found in muscle tissue. PAHs and HCAs are caused by a combination of smoke and direct flame contact with the food and can damage the DNA in our genes.

Mental Distress – Is directly linked to over production of free radicals. When somebody is suffering from anxiety, tension, stress or anger, it creates chemicals (cortisone and catecholamines) which react with different organs and cells and ultimately create free radicals.

Cigarette smoke – Contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). When ingested, PAH’s go directly to our cells creating free radicals that damage the lungs and contribute to Bronchitis and Emphysema.

Alcohol – Is a major producer of free radicals and has the potential to damage the liver, heart and brain. Alcohol breakdown in the liver results in reactive oxygen species (ROS) production. Alcohol also alters the levels of certain metals in the body, thereby facilitating ROS production and reduces the levels of antioxidants that can eliminate ROS. The resulting state of the cell, known as oxidative stress, can lead to cell injury.

Food preservatives and pesticides – Pesticides kill the pest by creating free radicals, therefore when we consume them we are also likely to be damaged by those free radicals.


The Role of Antioxidants

As soon as free radicals are created, they are checked by antioxidant enzymes in the body or nutrients in our food i.e. Vitamins C & E, beta carotene and bioflavonoids.

These are present in plants, herbs, fruits and vegetables and are very powerful. If the generation of free radicals is much more than can be handled by the enzymes or antioxidant nutrients, then they create damage in the cell membrane.

Antioxidants are free radical scavengers and slow down the process of oxidation in our bodies. They neutralize free radicals by donating one of their own electrons, ending the electron-”stealing” reaction. This reduces cell and tissue damage that could lead to cellular damage and disease.

Different Antioxidants benefit different parts of the body:

Proanthocyanidins – Beneficial for urinary tract health:  Rich in cinnamon, fruits and berries, some legumes (peas and beans), hazelnuts, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, cocoa, apples, dark chocolate, grapes.

Flavonoids – Especially beneficial for heart health:  Rich in red peppers, strawberries, citrus, fruits, broccoli, brussel sprouts, tropical fruits, garlic, spinach.

Beta-carotene (and other carotenoids) – Very beneficial to eye health:  Rich in sweet potato, green leafy vegetables, carrots, dried apricots, red peppers, melon, broccoli.

Lycopene – Beneficial for helping maintain prostate health:  Rich in tomatoes (especially when cooked), water melon, guava, papaya, grapefruit, asparagus, strawberries.