In parts one, two and three of this series, titled “Take Back Your Life”, “Take Back Your Life 2” and “Take Back Your Life 3; we discussed the importance of proper cell function, the necessity of having and maintaining a balanced endocrine system, and the role of vitamins and minerals, including certain trace minerals as they relate to wellness. Here in part 4, we shall examine the antioxidant phenomenon and its indispensable part in furthering your efforts to maintain a state of wellness and optimum health.
Information about antioxidants and their value to our health have been in the news for quite some time. Research is ongoing and opinions abound. The facts are these. Our body cells left unguarded by antioxidant protection are susceptible to damage and degradation as surely as metal materials left out in the weather are susceptible to rust.
One way of attempting to get antioxidant protection for our cell is to eat foods rich in these nutrients. In fact, The National Research Council recommends 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables every day, an amount that is difficult for most people to eat on a regular basis. Even for people who do, adequate antioxidant protection may not be gained because foods today are often depleted of many of the nutrients that we need. This can be demonstrated, for example, by comparing the amount of vitamin C in various oranges that are grown in different environments. To say nothing about the obvious lack of enough of the other catalytic elements such as flavonoids in foods and supplements alike, that function to augment and activate the needed nutrients for optimal performance. That is why we need to take our cues from whole food based nutrient categories of dietary choices.
A hundred years ago, while we may have believed that eating fruits and vegetables was good for us, recent discoveries coming from many research fronts reveal that we did not realize just how good for us the consumption of fruits and vegetables really was. Today we know that regular consumption of these vital foods along with adequate food formed supplementation may protect us from developing many diseases. We know this because of the obvious connection between oxidative stress and declining health. If we go further back in time, then our lack of understanding about the value of food based nutrients and their contribution to wellness is more evident.
For example, in centuries past, people believed that all foods contained only one nutrient. The ancient Greek philosopher Hippocrates proposed this theory based on his simple observation that people are the same regardless of where they live or what they eat. Even as late as the beginning of the 20th century, nutrients were divided into the two broad categories proteins and other organic compounds. Vitamins were essentially unknown to us, so the causes of the major diet-related diseases, including scurvy, beriberi, night blindness, rickets, and anemia caused by the lack of adequate vitamins C, B1, A, D, iron, folic acid and vitamin B12 respectively were also unknown. Green vegetables and fruit were thought to be more or less luxuries that were expensive sources of protein, energy, and bulk materials for proper bowel movement progresses.
This, at the time, prominent way of thinking produced such turn of the century statistics as an average life span in the U.S. of 47. And most people died of infections and diseases made worse by malnutrition and the absence of any other means of wellness support such as might have been provided by good nutritional habits and wise supplementation.
Much research during this past century brought to light all of what we know today about the existence of known vitamins and other beneficial nutrients. During the course of this activity of discovery, 11 Nobel prizes were awarded for vitamin discoveries and the 20th Century earned, among other distinctions the title of “Golden Age of Nutrition”. And now there is an appreciation for the importance of vitamins, minerals, and other necessary nutrients in our daily diets as one way to avoid deficiency diseases and to support general health and wellness. Other interesting research, such as that including one done on animals consuming a diet containing a complex antioxidant supplement for 6 months showed decreased age-related cognition deterioration when compared with non-supplemented animals. This further demonstrates the need for adequate antioxidant protection as a dietary practice.
Here in the 21st Century, we prefer to eat and profess the virtues of fresh foods as opposed to the heavily processed versions when we consider what will best support our good health and help to maintain out desired state of wellness. If fresh food supplies are not available or are lacking in the nutrition we need, then freeze-drying is the best method for preserving many nutrients. And of course, whole food extracts are preferable to high-dose single-nutrient supplementation. Supplementation with whole-food extracts can and do provide the necessary and beneficial nutrients that support good health, the prevention of disease, and wellness. Today we know that there are thousands of nutrients, and we are just beginning to understand the complexities by which beneficial nutrients protect and support our bodies. But we do know one thing for sure. And that is that we need antioxidants to maintain health and wellness.
The main and most urgent reason why we need to provide antioxidant protection through dietary means can be summed up in two words: heart disease. Heart disease is the number one killer throughout the entire developed world. It is also the number one killer of American adults. Heart disease accounts for more than 40% of all deaths and costs over $286 billion in health care expenses and lost productivity. Today, about 61 million Americans are coping with problems related to this disease. Life expectancy would increase by almost 10 years if we could, somehow, get rid of this cause of premature death. While some risk factors, such as genetic predisposition, gender, and age cannot be altered, most can. Good dietary practices, maintaining an appropriate body weight, eliminating the abuse of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco will help reduce the risk, but antioxidant protection is essential also.
It has also been shown that individuals with increased blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that can be converted in the body into glutathione, an important cellular antioxidant are at significantly higher risk of developing heart disease. This is especially true if adequate blood levels of folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 do not exist to make possible this conversion. This results in rising homocysteine levels which then can lead to blood clotting, narrowing of arteries, and toxicity to blood vessel lining cells.
What can be done? The best available dietary practices can derive increased benefit from supplementation. Many of the most beneficial nutrients are those found in foods most commonly lacking in the typical diet: whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. Antioxidant nutrients can be beneficial because they reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. Other dietary nutrients can help maintain or lower blood pressure, total blood cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, lipid, and homocysteine levels and elevate blood HDL cholesterol levels.
Some of the vitamins and other nutrients that constitute good antioxidant and healthy heart protection are: vitamins C, E, B6, B12, Magnesium, L-Arginine, Folic Acid, Garlic, Grape extract, Hawthorn Berry extract, Taurine, Trimethylglycine, Alpha-Lipoic Acid, N-acetyl-L-Cysteine, and Coenzyme Q-10. These nutrients are contained in some fresh foods as well as dietary supplements. If you are supplementing, make sure you obtain supplements that are food formed so that your body will be able to recognize and utilize these good things. And remember that more is not necessarily better.
There is a synergistic relationship at work here. Very few supplements are produced and marketed with synergy in mind, but they are out there. Go find them. Common sense must prevail when considering supplementation. A dietary supplement is intended to supplement an already healthy diet. And the amount of supplements taken should probably be adjusted if foods containing these nutrients are eaten regularly.
Finally, anyone under the care of a physician for heart-related issues should share their dietary habits, including their supplement use, with their physician. However, your health is ultimately in your hands. Remember to move your body, eat well, supplement wisely, and TAKE BACK YOUR LIFE!