The basic science of oxidative stress and the antioxidant response is not in contention, what is an effective antioxidant is. When the body breaks food down into energy, it generates a by-product known as free radicals. Also present in food itself, the air we breathe and the sun we worship, free radicals are a broad class of chemicals with the potential to exert significant damage. By ‘stealing’ electrons from nearby molecules, free radicals in the body may tamper with DNA and impede normal cell function.
These free radicals are not all bad and in fact play an essential role in cellular signalling. As a result, the body has inbuilt mechanisms for maintaining appropriate levels of oxidation. However, under suboptimal conditions, where the production of free radicals exceeds the body’s ability to absorb them, the result is oxidative stress. This fact has been linked with aging, inflammation and a host of chronic conditions alongside cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
For this reason, dietary antioxidants have been touted as a second line of attack. Antioxidants comprise of hundreds of substances, including vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, lycopene and minerals selenium, copper, zinc and manganese. Antioxidants donate electrons to the free radicals, in effect neutralising them while keeping nearby cells safe in the process. It is generally thought that the benefit of antioxidants can reduce the excessive reactive oxygen radicals in the body and therefore, absorb the oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress and the antioxidant response. Oxygen is the most abundant molecule in biological systems, and a critical component of aerobic life. Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) produced during metabolism plays important roles in signal transduction and gene expression, activation of nuclear transcription factors and receptors, immune system functioning, as well as the ageing processes.
In health, by initiating antioxidant defense mechanisms such as antioxidant enzymes (superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione peroxidase) and small molecules (minerals, glutathione, carotenoids, vitamins E and C) keep the levels of ROS and free radicals under control and protect the tissues and biological molecules from damage. This perfect balance can be disturbed with poor lifestyle choices, the environment, even exercise or as a consequence of ageing and disease. In fact, scientists have come to recognize oxidative stress as a contributing component of virtually every disease process.
In summary, as one type of disease prevention, the increased use of antioxidants will help the body mitigate disease. Health aids in prevention and beneficial lifestyle changes are the best form of health care.