The most visible signs of oxidation are the signs of aging – wrinkles, arthritis, stiff joints, loss of flexibility, presbyopia and so on. The process of rusting, or oxidation, is essential and necessary for your body’s functioning. Out of control oxidation contributes to, or is the cause of, practically every known disease that is occurring inside of you at this very moment. Oxidative stress is the result of dietary choices, lifestyle habits, stress and environmental exposures. Oxidation (and Reduction) is one of the basic principles of life. It is not all bad – we need it to live, and we need to keep it in balance. We know oxidation as the rust on our car, the brown stains on a freshly cut apple or potato when exposed to air, the rancid smell of vegetable oil on stale foods, and even the wrinkles that form on our skin. We don’t see that our own tissues are rusting, our own fats are going rancid, and our brains are melting as we go about our daily life. The oxidative process is initiated ordinary metabolic process, and can rage out of control with too many calories, smoking, sunburn, toxins, or whatever else that tips the balance that starts a chain reaction of cellular and tissue damage.
We have a built-in anti-rusting system that protects us, but we want to help it to prevent oxidation – essentially aging. As with all the systems in the body, problems arise when we are out of balance. The chemical principles of our REDOX system are those of REDuction and OXidation. Reduction is the neutralization of damage from oxidation or rusting. Oxidation is not all bad. Our white blood cells kill bacteria and viruses by releasing hydrogen peroxide and other free radicals. These radicals are unstable molecules that are missing an electron, which makes them unstable and looking for a mate. As they come in contact with neighboring molecules, they steal an electron, making them, in turn, unstable, thus triggering a chain reaction that can run out of control. For instance, cholesterol itself is not dangerous. Only when it becomes rancid or oxidized does the body swing into action, creating an immune response to this now “foreign molecule” leading to the development of plaque or clogged arteries.
Much of the damage we experience as disease occurs in the mitochondria, the energy powerhouse of the cell, where burning of food we eat generates the most free radicals. Free radicals are the metabolic waste products of turning food into energy. Other sources of free radicals are toxins, infections and allergens, but especially junk food and drinks rich in sugar or alcohol. Bottom line – the more free radicals we make, the less energy we produce because we damage the cells ability to make energy in the mitochondria. The ultimate loss of energy is death. This is why over-consumptive under-nutrition is at the heart of so much illness. We eat too many calories and anti-nutrients, but not enough antioxidants in our food. It is why the only proven method to prolong life is calorie restriction. Getting our RedOx system back into balance is the key to optimal health and a vital, energetic body. Fatigue is the most common symptom of poorly functioning mitochondria. The reason we loose energy as we age is the accumulated injury we give our mitochondria.
We have over 100,000 trillion of these powerhouses in our body, and each one contains 17,000 little assembly lines for making ATP, our major fuel. They use over 90% of the oxygen we breathe. They take up 40% of the space inside the heart cells. They are very efficient, but they are very sensitive to damage from uncontrolled oxidative stress. As of January 2002, there were 17,039 references on oxidative stress in the National Library of Medicine database. Much research has been done on antioxidants and disease, and the results are mixed because orthodox medicine is designing the studies using the wrong model. Studying a single antioxidant that we isolate from food, like beta-carotene, is completely counter-physiologic. If fact, setting up a single nutrient study reveals the fundamental lack of knowledge by most clinicians of nutrition and the redox system. They are looking for answers based on the drug model – single drug, a single effect, a measurable outcome. You give a pill for high blood pressure and the blood pressure goes down.
Studying oxidative stress is completely different. First, antioxidants are part of an overall system that controls and manages the excess free radicals we produce. Second, by definition, any antioxidant becomes an oxidant in its natural function. Antioxidants work by giving up one electron to neutralize a free radical, and become a free radical in the process. They in turn need to be neutralized by another free radical, down a chain like passing a hot potato, until they are finally neutralized by the mother of all antioxidants, glutathione, which can be recycled and restored. This is why it is possible for studies to show that beta-carotene can increase cancer, or that vitamin C may cause DNA damage.
Very importantly, some of the most powerful antioxidants are not in vitamins and minerals, but in food, such as the proanthocyanidins in grapes and berries. We should obtain most of our antioxidants from food – namely high-nutrient SuperFoods. We need to view antioxidants as a team, not individually. They are best available in whole nature made foods, not in pharmaceutical laboratories. Even the multivitamin supplement made in a pharmaceutical factory is missing many desired and necessary components. Why would we want to second guess Nature? Take action to reverse the aging process: first remove Oxidative Stress, then set to work to repair the RedOx system. Avoid overeating, sugar, alcohol, smoking, prescription, over-the-counter and recreational drugs, and also excessive exercise or physical work.