Free radicals and antioxidants
If we want to understand why vitamins and other micronutrients are so vital, we must learn about the role of oxygen in our body. We all know this we could not survive for five minutes without the oxygen we breathe. But strangely enough, too much of this gas can be harmful, even fatal, because oxygen can form extremely aggressive compounds in the body that can attack our cells and trigger harmful oxidation processes.
These highly active chemical compounds are called „free radicals“. They cause the cells to „rust“ – similar to how air causes iron to rust (oxidise). Fortunately, our organism has adapted to these double-edged properties of oxygen. It makes optimum use of its „good“ properties for the life-supporting transformation of food into energy and defends itself against excess through protective substances known as antioxidants. If our cells did not contain these substances, we would die within half a second.
The attack of the free radicals on our cells indicates in every moment and is part of the normal processes of life. But this attack will be strengthens through living conditions that make it difficult for the organism to defend itself. These include exposure to environmental toxins, smog, toxins our homes, pesticides, but also emotional or physical Stress, cigarette smoke, rancid oil or grilled meat.
Even so, 69 full activities like sports or gymnastics increase the attack of free radicals. The more we are exposed to such conditions, the more antioxidants we need to defend ourselves against them.
The most important antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and other carotenoids, zinc, selenium and glutathione. N-acetyl-cysteine, taurine, lipoic acid, coenzyme Q 10, milk thistle, curcumin and grape seed extract. These substances work best together, and the more balanced the team, the better the results.
The results can be impressive. Research in recent years, which has been very much focused on this subject, shows that antioxidants not only reduce the risk of developing certain disorders, but also slow down the ageing process.
Although the causes of illness and premature ageing may be varied in detail, there is always an excess of free radicals involved. For example, there is now a broad consensus among researchers that the development of such widespread diseases as cancer, heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease is promoted by the fact that the body is no longer able to protect itself sufficiently against the attack of cell-damaging radicals.
Is oxygen to blame for everything? With all the sober descriptions of the oxidative processes it causes in the body, we must not forget that oxygen makes our life possible.
The American doctor and nutrient specialist Dr. Robert C. Atkins used a beautiful picture for the „double-edged“ nature of this element of life. He compared oxygen with the electric current that drives the devices in our household. In order for this to happen without danger and for the electricity not to cause the house to go up in flames, the appliances must be well protected and insulated. We need both: the power that drives us and the protection that keeps that power in check.