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What Vitamins Will Stop Free Radical Damage?

The terms free radicals, antioxidants, glutathione peroxidase, superoxides, superoxide dismutase, oxidants, and lipid peroxy radicals sound foreign and complex. What do they really have to do with health?

To begin with you may have heard that these words have to do with causing cancer, heart disease, cataracts, macular degeneration, premature aging, suppressing the immune system, Parkinson’s, arthritis, male infertility, multiple slcerosis, Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune diseases.

What are free radicals and oxidant particles? The terms are basically interchangeable and describe incomplete and unstable molecules. Molecules are the basic building blocks in nature, such as fatty acids, oxygen, and amino acids. Normal molecules have electrons in pairs, electrons hold molecules together.

Let’s use the oxygen molecule as an example. The oxygen molecule has four pairs of electrons. If the molecule loses one of its electrons it becomes a free radical. A free radical or oxidant particle that has for one reason or another lost an electron becomes unbalanced and looks to replace the missing electron. It will go so far as to steal an electron from another molecule, injuring or even killing it, which in turn steals an electron from another molecule and so on, damaging more and more cells. This then damages the cell DNA and can alter future generations even turning them cancerous.

Here is a list of the most common free radicals our bodies have to deal with, our body’s antioxidant systems, and the antioxidants that are vital to our health.

The Villains

SUPEROXIDE – This is usually the first free radical formed and is an oxygen molecule that has lost an electron. The damage begins here as most others come from the super oxide radical.

HYDROGEN PEROXIDE – Formed by conversion of the superoxide radical, it can pass through the cell membrane and harm the delicate inner parts of the cell.

HYDROXYL RADICALS – These are the most dangerous of all free radicals. Formed when superoxide and hydrogen peroxide react together, which causes an extreme reaction; they will attack any molecule around them.

LIPID PEROXY RADICALS – Formed when oxygen attacks fatty acids in the cell membranes. This is very common because the fat in the membranes is very reactive and is the choice of the oxygen molecules. This is the same reaction that causes fatty meat left in a warm room to turn rancid. During the lipid (lipids are a broad group of naturally occurring molecules that deal with energy storage, as structural components of cell membranes, and as important signalling molecules) breakdown chain reaction the fatty molecules release more free radicals. This chain reaction can spread across the membrane of the cell destroying the basic function of the cell.

 The Heroes

Our antioxidant system works in two parts: the enzyme systems and the antioxidant vitamins. The enzymes work pretty much inside the cell while the vitamins can work both inside and outside the cell. There are two main antioxidant systems in our body and antioxidants work to keep them functioning.

SUPEROXIDE DISMUTASE (SOD) – These are trace minerals that consist of several forms which are used both outside and inside different parts of the cell. They require different minerals as cofactors (“helper molecules” that assist in biochemical transformations), which completes the enzyme and helps it to function thousands of times more effectively.

GLUTATHIONE PEROXIDASE (GP) – Requiring selenium as a cofactor, this works in many places inside the cell. While it helps SOD do a more complete job, it performs a function SOD cannot; prevent the dreaded hydroxyl radical from being formed.

You only have so many enzyme systems in each cell and as the oxidant (free radical) load builds it will eventually outstrip those systems. The only way to reverse this destructive overload is to increase antioxidant nutrients to fight the free radicals.

Vitamins that Stop Free Radical Damage

VITAMIN C – Important water-soluble (something that can be dissolved in water) antioxidant vitamin that works hard to protect the fatty cell membranes. The fluid surrounding our cells is mostly water based. This is where Vitamin C is found working hard to neutralize free radicals before they can work their way into the fatty cell membrane. C can also be found inside the cells protecting the water-soluble areas. It also plays a vital role with vitamin E, revitalizing E when it is rendered inactive after it has done its job; like a battery charge.

VITAMIN E – Our fat-soluble (something that dissolves in fat or fat solvents) antioxidant vitamin. Oxidant particles are attracted to fat, especially polyunsaturated fat. Vitamin E does wonders fighting against lipid peroxy radicals. The cell membranes are mostly polyunsaturated fat; so it’s important to have plenty of E availability.

BETA-CAROTENE – Is wonderful because it works in both fat- and water-soluble areas as a free radical destroyer.

Cells and cell membranes need adequate levels of these three nutrients to protect against destructive lipid oxidation. Areas between cells should also contain enough levels of these vitamins to prevent oxidant particles from reaching the cell membrane to begin with. Working together these antioxidant vitamins enhance the effectiveness of each other.

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