Whilst many people have been contemplating their navels on the beach, I have spent most of this summer indoors, hunched over my computer. I have also been watching the lines on my face and counting the white hairs on my head with increasing anxiety. Something can be done about the unhealthy lifestyle but what about the natural process of ageing?
Several weeks ago, I was invited to give a talk on nutrition to a group of over 60s and geared myself up to talk about osteoporosis, heart disease and arthritis but was in for a surprise when asked to explain the connection between free oxidising radicals and antioxidants. This group was fully aware that the intricate balance between the two is critical in our battle against premature ageing and disease.
Just in case you haven’t got the foggiest idea what a free radical is or does, let me enlighten you. A free radical is not a member of a terrorist group but a highly toxic molecule which damages our cells. The more toxic your environment, the higher the level of free radicals in your body. Toxicity is caused not only by pollution but by eating burnt food such as blackened toast or barbecued meat, frying food, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. High stress levels? Then you are more likely to generate internal free radical activity and have a higher risk of developing degenerative diseases, such as heart disease and cancer.
Starting to feel depressed? Don’t be, the human body has a range of very clever defence mechanisms against free radicals called antioxidants. Antioxidants are your internal fire brigade, dashing to the rescue every time a free radical is back in town stirring up trouble, lighting fires in weak areas. If enough fire engines are on call, then free radical damage can be slowed down or prevented.
So how do we get our hands on more fire engines, I mean antioxidants? Fortunately, nature supplies us with an abundance of plant foods, each with their own particular health benefits. The wider the variety of fresh, colourful, preferably organic fruit and vegetables you eat, the higher your consumption of antioxidant nutrients. The main ones are the vitamins A, C and E and beta-carotene, but minerals selenium, zinc, iron, manganese and copper are also involved in antioxidant protection by making up free radical zapping enzymes.
There’s even more good news: each year scientists discover further antioxidant nutrients, some more potent than vitamin C. Bioflavonoids can be found in plant foods particularly in citrus fruit, cherries and berries and have vital roles to play in promoting health and preventing disease. As they are not stored by the body, it is best to eat foods containing these substances on a regular basis. If exposed to more than your fair share of free radicals, also consider supplementing your healthy diet with a good antioxidant formula. This should help tip the balance between free radicals and antioxidants in your favour.
© 2011 Martina Watts MSc Nut Med, First Published Brighton Argus August 2002