We need antioxidants to combat the negative effects of oxygen. Oxygen is necessary to facilitate the many processes continually occurring in the body.  Oxygen also creates negative side effects.  When oxygen interacts with other substances it creates the breakdown of such substances, a process called oxidation. For example, when oxygen interacts with unprotected metal, oxidation occurs in the form of rust.  Oxidation in the body results from oxygen interacting with cells to create free radicals. Antioxidants are substances that neutralize free radicals.  What is a free radical?

        All cells of all living things are made up of molecules which in turn are made up of atoms. Atoms are largely made up of protons, neutrons and electrons.  Electrons operate as partners within an atom.  Often an electron will leave its partner as it orbits around the nucleus of an atom, and in so doing, will seek to join some other electron that has left its orbit or it will try to rob a partner from some other paired electron.   It is this free-floating electron that is called a free radical.  It’s called a free radical because it is freely darting about in a very radical way trying to hook up with another electron.  It is the action of oxygen upon cellular components that cause free radicals to develop.

        Why should we be concerned with the erratic behavior of an electron running wild?   When an electron leaves its partner in the atom of a particular molecule, it causes that molecule to become unbalanced and therefore unstable. When this same electron attempts to join or rob an electron from the paired electrons of other molecules, those molecules become unbalanced and unstable.

        Single electrons, which have been abandoned by their partners, become very active in seeking another electron to replace the one that left.  As this process continues, chain reactions occur where billions of electrons are darting about seeking partners, and in the process, creating instability for billions of molecules which in turn create instability for millions of cells.  It is this instability that causes cells to break down.   When enough cell damage occurs, it results in tissue damage which can lead to organ damage.

       Is all free radical activity bad?  No, it is not.  Free radical activity is a normal part of all living things.  It is as responsible for the decay of the carrot left too long on your kitchen table as it is responsible for the aging and eventual death of the human organism.  Free radical activity is a normal dynamic of metabolism and serves many important functions in the body.  For example, our immune system will generate free radicals to destroy viral and bacterial organisms.

       Normal metabolic processes, involving oxidative activity (oxygen uniting with nutrients), will produce free radicals. The normal and beneficial activity of free radicals depends on the release of limited quantities of them in the right place at the right time.  When they are released in quantities above that which the body needs or can handle is when they become a threat to our health.  There are many causes for excessive production of free radicals in the body.   Stress, chemicals in our food, water, and air supply, drugs of all kinds, rancid fats, excessive exercise, radiation, etc. will all contribute to the production of free radicals.  A common problem associated with excess free radicals is inflammation.  Uncontrolled inflammation can lead to many health problems and degenerative disease. This is why we need to be concerned about free radical activity and this is where antioxidants come in.

       Our bodies are designed to neutralize free radicals, provided we provide the nutrients required to maintain this function.  Our bodies produce a variety of enzymes that focus on limiting free radical activity.  One of those enzymes is called superoxide dismutase or SOD for short. During normal aerobic, (with air), cellular metabolism, oxygen and nutrients from food combine to create the basic energy molecule of life called adenosine triphosphate (A.T.P). During this process, the free radical superoxide is created in significant amounts. SOD along with another enzyme called catalase removes the superoxide by converting it to oxygen and water.  This oxygen and water is then recycled by the body and used for other purposes.

        If you’re in normal health, your body will produce around five million units of SOD per day.  If your level of nutritional intake is poor, the production of SOD will diminish.  There is also a gradual diminishing of this enzyme as we age. The very aging process itself is felt to be directly linked to uncontrolled free radical activity.

        In addition to enzymes that help to control free radical activity, there are a variety of vitamins and minerals that act as antioxidants.  Vitamin E is a well known antioxidant that will actually sacrifice itself when confronted with a free radical in order to protect us from further damage.  Beta carotene, vitamin C, and the minerals selenium and zinc all work as antioxidants.  The mineral selenium must be present in order for the body to make the enzyme glutathione peroxidase. This enzyme neutralizes free radicals created in the breakdown of fats in the body. If this mineral isn’t present in sufficient amounts in the body, this enzyme will not be formed and we reduce our level of protection from free radicals caused by fatty acid breakdown.

        Our number one weapon against free radical damage is to eat a wide variety of fresh vegetables and fruits.  It’s in fresh produce, and I emphasis fresh, that we get a wide variety of antioxidant nutrients.  Research shows that it is important to consume vegetables and fruits having different colors such as green, yellow, red and orange.  The color of the produce indicates different types of nutritional factors that have unique ways of supporting our health.  Dark green vegetables will provide a wide range of nutrients, including those enzymes discussed above.  Yellow and orange vegetables and fruits will supply beta carotene and a variety of the over five hundred carotenoids that have been identified.

        Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, collards, kale and brussels sprouts, contain a nutrient called sulforaphane which has the ability to activate enzymes that remove toxins from the body.   Tomatoes contain a pigment called lycopene, a carotene that acts as a very strong antioxidant.  Lycopene has been shown to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Oxidation of LDL cholesterol is one of the main causes of plaque buildup in the arteries.  Lutein is a flavonoid found in brussels sprouts that acts as a strong antioxidant and is especially effective in helping to prevent macular degeneration in the eyes.  There are about 4000 known flavonoids (also called bio-flavonoids), many of which have antioxidant activity. Pycnogenol, a trade name for a flavonoid complex derived from pine bark, provides good antioxidant activity.  These same flavonoids can also be derived from grape seed and red wine and are collectively known as oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPC’s).

       If you are unable to eat a diet that regularly includes generous servings of fresh, unprocessed fruits and vegetables, you can obtain many of these plant nutrients (also referred to as phyto-chemicals) by supplementing your diet with food concentrates.  Food concentrates are generally made by juicing various parts of plants and then dehydrating or freeze drying the juice into a powder.  It is important that any such product is processed at low temperature so that the enzymes and other sensitive nutrients are preserved.

       At Milk ‘N Honey we provide a green food concentrate called BarleyLife which is high in SOD, catalase and a variety of other antioxidant nutrients.  This product is processed at low temperature thus preserving heat sensitive enzymes.  At Milk ‘N Honey we carry a variety of high quality nutritional supplements which will support the ability of the body to control free radical activity.