Antioxidants – the Key to Healthy Ageing?

Oxygen is the basis for all animal life. It is our most important nutrient, needed by every cell every second of the day. Oxidants (or free radicals) are produced by nearly everything we do that involves oxygen – including breathing and digestion.

Oxidants aren’t all bad. But they can cause harm if levels become too high in your body. In normal bio-chemical reactions oxygen can become unstable and capable of ‘oxidising’ neighbouring molecules which can lead to cellular damage that triggers cancer, inflammation, arterial damage and ageing.

To keep oxidation from harming healthy cells, people produce ‘antioxidants’. These molecules fight oxidants in your body and keep them in check.

What Happens as You Age

However, the body tends to make fewer of these helpful chemicals as it gets older, so if you are over the age of 50, it’s particularly important to keep an eye on what you are eating or supplementing, to provide antioxidant protection.

The balance between your intake of antioxidants and your exposure to free radicals may literally be the balance between life and death. You can tip the scales in your favour by making simple changes to your antioxidant intake.

The Synergy of Antioxidants is Vital

Some are known essential nutrients, like Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Vitamin E – associated with reducing Alzheimer’s risk.

Antioxidants are team players. You need a combination of vitamin E and C and betacarotene, as well as glutathione, anthocyanidins, lipoic acid and co-enzyme Q10 to do the job of disarming oxidants properly. Taking only one of the antioxidants not only is unwise but can also be dangerous.

Watch this film for an explanation of how antioxidants work together.

Antioxidants Protect the Brain

Since the brain is made of all these complex fats that can easily be damaged by oxidants, it makes sense that having a high intake of antioxidants would protect the brain from damage. A study of 4,740 Cache County, Utah elderly residents found that supplementing both vitamin E and C, cut their risk of developing Alzheimer’s by two-thirds.

Testing Your Antioxidant Potential

Your ability to stay free of these diseases, depends on the balance between your intake of harmful free radicals and your intake of protective antioxidants. An accurate way to determine your antioxidant status is to have a biochemical antioxidant profile done. This blood test measures the levels of betacarotene, C and E in your blod and determines how well your antioxidant enzyme systems (such as glutathione peroxidase) are functioning. Most nutritional laboratories offer this kind of test.

What Foods to Eat

Antioxidants are also found in food, especially in fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based, whole foods. The main essential antioxidant vitamins A, C and E and the precursor of Vitamin A, Betacarotene.

Betacarotene is found in vegetables and fruit eaten raw, but heat rapidly destroys it.

Vitamin E is found in ‘seed’ foods, including nuts, seeds and their oils, and vegetables like peas, broad beans, corn and whole grains – all of which are classified as seed foods.

Eating sweet potatoes, carrots, watercress, peas and broccoli frequently is a great way to increase your antioxidant potential – provided, of course, that you do not fry them.

The total antioxidant power of a food can be measured. The test determines a food’s ‘oxygen radical absorbance capacity’, known as ORAC for short. Each food can now be assigned a certain number of ORAC units. Foods that score high in these units are especially helpful in countering oxidant, or free-radical damage in your body.

6000 ORACs a day keeps ageing away!

My Recommendations

  • My advice would be to quit cigarettes if you smoke
  • Eat foods high in antioxidants including betacarotene
  • Supplement either a multivitamin containing antioxidants or a good, all round antioxidant formula – I take both – Optimum Nutrition Formula with Age Antioxidant.