I am going to preface this post by saying “I am not a Nutritionist”. The following content provided is to be considered thought provoking and not a definitive guide to management of free radicals.
What are free radicals?
Free radicals are developed in your body through many different means and reactions. To avoid diving too far in to the molecular biology, lets keep it short. Free radicals are bad. They are highly unstable, reactive oxygen molecules that are present in your body. Due to their instability, they are always looking for stability, which means they are looking to bind to other molecules and cause havoc.
Free radicals and LDL
A good example of how free radicals can be harmful is by looking at how they interact with low-density lipoproteins (LDL), the”bad” cholesterol. LDL carries the roughly 70% of the total cholesterol in your body and distributes it to different tissues and cells. However, by nature, LDL is more likely to become oxidized than its “good” counter part high-density lipoprotein (HDL). What happens is these free radicals in the body will actually oxidize the LDLs and make them more prone to contributing to atherosclerosis and arterial clogging, which increases your risk of heart disease
What stops free radicals?
Free radicals can be reduced by anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants basically act as your buffer from free radicals. These anti-oxidants are the “good guys”. They go around attaching to free radicals and reduce the amount of damage they might otherwise cause.
Where are these anti-oxidants made?
Anti-oxidants are made in your body. Believe it or not, your body is pretty good at self-regulating. The presence of oxidants (free radicals) actually stimulates anti-oxidant production. Like getting a cold, you body learns to build up its self-defenses. However, anti-oxidants produced in the body are not always enough. For this reason, eating rich colored foods can increase the amount of anti-oxidants in your systems, thus acting as a second line of defense to your body’s already present support system
Dr. Clyde Wilson recently brought it to my attention that the supplementation of anti-oxidants is not so straightforward as you think. On the surface, one might quickly jump to the conclusion “more is better”. However, the issue with supplementation is the speed at which it enters the blood stream and the amount present at one time. What happens is upon supplementation, your body will get flooded with a huge amount of anti-oxidants. These anti-oxidants will fly around your blood stream buffering you against free radicals. Sounds great right? There is a catch…
The free radicals are taken up so quickly that your body never actually recognizes them as a threat. Because of this, your system actually down regulates anti-oxidant production. No threat, no need for anti-oxidants. You are basically removing the stimulus for adaptation. By taking supplements, you are being far too kind to your own body and actually hindering its ability to defending itself. As Dr. Wilson mentioned, its like coddling your child too much and then one day you let it out in to the world. With the child not having to deal with any hardships of their own, they are probably going to be in for a rude awakening. In essence, the same happens in your body.
The issue with the supplementation is the speed at which it enters the blood stream and the amount that is immediately present. So, what does this mean about natural supplementation through consumption of fruits and veggies?
Well, the world works in a funny way and more times then not it seems that nature has it all figured out. When eating fruits and veggies, the gastric emptying is much slower than that of a powdered supplement. Because the fruits and veggies have fibrous skins on them, it takes some time for the food to actually be processed. Because of this, the time it takes to enter the body is much slower and at a much more regulated state, instead of a crazy transient spike you get from your supplements. Natural fruits and veggies act much more like a teacher trying to help a kid answer a homework question through gentle guidance and less like the crazed mom who just answers it for them. In other words, the natural foods allow you to feel the stressor, get the stimulus needed for increased anti-oxidant production, but are still present to help the natural process.
Foods with anti-oxidants
The old adage holds true here, “have a colorful plate”. Anti-oxidants are found in deep colored fruits and veggies. Blueberries are basically the kings of the fruit world, while foods like kale and spinach hold their own in regards to veggies. However, eating them in isolation is not always best. There is a minimal effective dose for everything, so eating 2lbs of blueberries is only going to give you an upset stomach. Instead, think about having a solid mix of different fruits and veggies. Together, these foods will act synergistically to produce the most effective anti-oxidant profile compared to any of the foods in isolation.
Free radicals are bad for a series of reasons. They are unstable substances that want to cause damage to your body. However, artificially preventing them through supplementation may help you in the short term, but negatively effect you in the long term. Instead of supplements, food and veggies are probably much better suited at actually helping your body. Eat them in conjunction with each other, because synergistically they work together to produce the most positive effects.
Thanks to Dr. Clyde Wilson for the teachings and insights.