Antioxidants and free radicals have become common buzzwords. We know that antioxidants are good and we should consume more of them and we know that free radicals are bad and we should avoid them. But what exactly are these antioxidants and free radicals and how do they affect us? Most importantly, which ones are best for cancer prevention?
Free radicals are highly reactive molecules which means that they bind to other molecules, such as your cells and DNA, and cause damage. This process is known as oxidation, where free radicals essentially take a bite out of your cellular structures. You can see oxidation happening all around you, such as the browning of a cut apple when left out, or the yellowing of old papers.
A generally benign, but aesthetic concern with free radicals is their role in causing fine lines and wrinkles. This is why you will notice that many anti-aging skin care products tout their use of antioxidants. On a more concerning level, free radicals damage cellular structures within our bodies, which can result in mutations. These mutations in our DNA can alter tumor-suppressor genes and oncogenes, which can directly lead to tumor growth.
Now that we know the havoc free radicals can reap, how can we avoid them? Unfortunately, we can’t completely avoid them. First off, our bodies actually produce free radicals as a by-product of daily cellular functions. The immune system produces superoxide to kill off bacteria and viruses; however, this compound also acts as a free radical. While the body has mechanisms to neutralize the free radicals it produces, such as the superoxide dismutase enzymes, it is not 100% efficient; free radical damage can still occur from these internal sources. Our largest external source of free radicals is the environment. This is where we have a bit more control on avoiding or at least limiting exposure.
The largest environmental sources are:
- Cigarette smoke (which should be avoided for many reasons!)
- Air pollution
- Gasoline fumes
- Fried and charred foods
- Solvents (this includes commercial brand scented candles, etc.)
We know you can’t live in a bubble but don’t stress…antioxidants are here to help! Antioxidants are molecules that work by binding to free radicals and neutralizing them. When you see the extent of damage a free radical can do, and how much we are exposed to them daily, the importance of consuming as many antioxidants as possible becomes clear.
Some of the most powerful antioxidants for cancer prevention are:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin A
The top food sources for these antioxidants include:
- Dark berries including blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and goji berries
- Citrus fruits
- Other fruits such as mangos, pineapple, melons, kiwi
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel’s sprouts, cabbage
- Leafy greens like kale, collards, and chard
- Green tea
- Garlic, onions, shallots, scallions, and leeks
Do you need to supplement? While many antioxidants are readily available in our foods, our antioxidant defense systems are vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies. Many health practitioners believe that the increased burden of toxins in today’s environment combined with the lower quality food sources we have access to tip the free-radical/antioxidant balance against us. Oral antioxidant supplements in addition to nutrient therapy via IV infusion and injections can help tip the balance back in our favor.
Visit Koi Wellness Center today for information on testing your specific antioxidant levels and learning more about your supplementation options.