Oxidation 101 Beauty and the beast; The antioxidant and the free radical
Original post: September 20, 2010
The free radical is much more than just “a bad chemical that inflicts damage,” and there’s a lot more to the antioxidant than its “good-guy image”. In fact, our cells and the cells of our companion animals rely on free-radical activity for many life-supportive processes such as immune function and oxidation of nourishment for energy production within the cells.
The free radical gets a bad rap but the beauty of this reactive molecule is that it also drives cellular activities. It only becomes a liability in the cells of the body when it flails out of control. Antioxidants help control free radicals.
Because they support the immune system and protect tissues, antioxidants have a “good-guy” image.
However, an antioxidant can become dangerously reactive in the body and may impart free-radical activity itself under certain conditions. The adverse activity of the antioxidant is more likely to occur if an antioxidant system is incomplete. A cell that fails to produce its requisite antioxidant levels on its own will face the uncontrolled fire of unbridled free radicals.
This is where oral sources of antioxidants come to the rescue. However, poor antioxidant formulations can turn literally fuel the free radical fire. Essential for biological health, free radicals are both facilitators and inhibitors of various biochemical systems, including hormone regulation. Nitric oxide and peroxynitrite, the nitric-oxide-derived free radical, are good examples. In some cases free radicals promote tumor growth, but in other instances they fight tumor progression. Furthermore, free radicals are now recognized as gene modulators, a finding that differs immensely from the previous understanding that they exclusively mutate genes.
The answer to this complex biological riddle is to know the functions of the different types of free radicals and identify the triggers that may turn helpful ones against us and our companion animals. If you’re able to gain a genuine appreciation for the interactions and influences that our foods and the nutrients they contain have on our biochemistry, you’re more likely to take the recommendations in this book more seriously and apply them as long-term lifestyle commitments. These intricacies are incorporated right into the formulation recommendations.
Various chemicals, those of unnatural origin as well as many that are natural by-products, can instigate and proliferate free-radical generation to increase the risk of disease. In other words, no matter how hard we try we can’t escape the free-radical assault from our environment. This activity strikes right through us and our companion animals like lightning.
Free radicals don’t just bounce off skin as though it were a metal shield and the free radical a rubber bead. The free radical that’s generated outside the body can, upon contact, damage the molecules or atoms that make up skin. The reactivity doesn’t end there. It continues like a domino effect through the skin to affect molecules in contact and close proximity—an indefinite chain of reactivity.
Protection from this hazard comes in the form of cell-incorporated antioxidants such as vitamin E and alpha lipoic acid, which slow down the reactivity. The antioxidant shield acts more like a sponge or a goopy gel matrix to absorb the momentum of the free radical that ricochets our way. With this gel matrix in place the free radical can’t filter through as quickly or as deeply.
However, the absorption potential of antioxidants is limited, so that the more toxicity our pets are exposed to, the more light from the sun, the more oxidized food they eat, the more household cleaners, the more stress and food-borne poisons, the more absorption potential is needed in the form of the antioxidant.
Keep in mind that once the body runs out of absorption potential, the ultraviolet-light, toxin-activated and stress initialized free radicals are allowed to infiltrate deeper into the body where, if your pets’ cells are prepared, they’ll meet a second line of antioxidant defense guarding the core. If the body is not properly fortified, though, free radicals will invade further, literally scalding the delicate body from the inside out and altering the inbuilt genetic activity.
Compounding this bombardment from the outside, the body produces free radicals by way of metabolic activity.
Emotional and mental states drive free-radical generation, as well. In addition, free radicals and other toxins are also taken inward through air and food. A larger intake of calories results in greater metabolic activity and more free-radical production at the body’s core. With more physical activity, more oxygen is metabolized, and this, as well, increases the rate of cellular free-radical generation. Frankly there’s no escape. Free radicals will flood your pet’s body from the outside in and the inside out just as they do your own body.
Antioxidant protection must be supplied completely to protect the body from uncontrolled combustion. An effective program is much more than singular antioxidants; it’s complex and comprehensive.
Often a chemical reaction in the body doesn’t proceed as cleanly as it should. Extreme demands from intense physical exercise and disease, as well as the influence from environmental chemicals, metabolic by-products, and dietary and stored nutrient supplies, influence how efficiently reactions ensue in the cells.
The reaction can also yield atoms with an odd number of electrons in the outer orbits, leaving behind an unpaired electron. To state it in simple terms, atoms are more stable when electrons on the outer most orbit of the atom are paired. Essentially an atom with an odd-number of electrons on the outer orbital isn’t positive, negative, or neutral in terms of electrical charge. In fact, it isn’t even considered an ion; it’s a free radical, an unstable atom or molecule with an unpaired electron in search of a companion electron.
Free radicals formed from oxygen are nasty substances called a superoxide anion radical, O2-e. They can also form a hydroxyl radical, HO-e. Both are extraordinarily vicious and quite common. The unstable free radical requires an electron to offset the imbalance that this odd electron number imposes. It can suck an electron from another atom that makes up part of a molecule in the cells or vital chemicals of the body. When an electron is ripped away from an atom that’s part of vital tissue, the atomic structure of this tissue’s atom is altered and so are its chemical properties.
Ultimately this affected molecule and the tissue it constitutes are damaged.
The free radical can tear away an electron from an atom of a molecule that exists in the genetic code of DNA. The result is a mutated code that can subsequently impair cell function. This process can instigate disease if the immune system or the natural DNA-corrective chemistry isn’t able to discard or fix the mutation. Such a radical reaction isn’t isolated to a single event, either. It’s not slow and certainly not finite. It’s more like a flash that rips through the body with lightning speed.
The sacrificed molecule that neutralizes the original free radical, whether antioxidant or not, doesn’t terminate the reaction. The sacrificed atom has one less electron in its outer orbit and is now a free radical itself. A wide variety of free radicals have affinities for different molecules and tissues and one antioxidant might have a greater capacity to neutralize one type of free radical.
Chatecholamines like dopamine and epinephrine (adrenaline) are highly reactive and initiate the production of free radicals as does hydrocortisone. While moderate chatecholamine secretions can protect the body by delivering antioxidant protection, oversecretion is oxidative, promoting free-radical generation. Prolonged periods of stress can result in incremental levels of epinephrine and corticosteroids that ultimately give rise to greater levels of free radicals. This is one way emotional and mental strains increase oxidative stress on the body and heighten the risk of disease. The stress-produced superoxide anion radical is a dangerous piranha that chews away at the body.
Unregulated serum glucose breeds free radicals, as well. As we’ve seen in previous chapters, glucose can react detrimentally with long-lived body proteins such as cartilage and other vital proteins to produce an advanced glycosylated end product (AGE)—a damaged protein. Free radicals play a facilitative role in this reaction.
If these free radicals are allowed to chip away at the body’s antioxidant stores such as glutathione and vitamins A, C, and E, to name just a few disease is inevitable. This degeneration of antioxidant protection results in an increased risk of cardiovascular ailments and chronic inflammation, diabetes and more.
ENTER THE ANTIOXIDANT
Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, catechins, flavonoids, and polyphenols of plant origin supply the electrons required to neutralize free radicals so that the latter don’t steal electrons from the atoms that make up vital molecules, cells, and tissues. However, that’s not the only activity of these powerful biomodulators.
An antioxidant readily gives up an electron to neutralize the reactive free radical, but it’s left with an unpaired electron that can also become a free radical. Antioxidants work in synergistic combinations. One type, such as vitamin E, can’t replace the function of another, say, vitamin C or grapeseed extract and vice versa. The claims that grapeseed extract is so much more powerful than vitamin E aren’t completely true. The wide array of free radicals requires a varied arsenal of specialized antioxidants. Vitamin E, for example, isn’t able to neutralize all of the free radicals that glutathione or grapeseed extract can, but glutathione or grape seed can’t effectively counteract all of those that vitamin E can.
There may be overlap in the potential of antioxidants, but there definitely isn’t complete redundancy. In addition, antioxidants actually rely on one another for interaction to complete their roles. When an antioxidant becomes a free radical, it relies on its antioxidant partner to supply it with an electron to bring it down from its reactive state. The second donor, however, becomes a free radical itself, having given up its electron, so it requires a donor of its own. Each time this co-dependent reaction takes place the free-radical reaction potential (oxidative potential or reactivity level) drops to a lower level and becomes less risky to the body. Complete antioxidant programs are crucial to the total diffusion of this destructive activity.
By limiting the availability of these antioxidants in the body, completely or in part, we become vulnerable to the original reactive free radical at the top of the chain or any of the free radicals that are left in a reactive state at the point where the co-dependent antioxidant is missing from the chain. It’s easy to induce a toxic outcome with a megadose administration of vitamin E, for example, and this is exactly what unaware scientists do when they show negative effects with supplementation of antioxidants. Typically toxicity assessments are done with extremely high megadoses of incomplete antioxidant systems. Antioxidants only work in systems made up of co-dependent antioxidant partners.
Some experts report irresponsibly that these life supporters can be toxic. I can assure you that if you eliminate these nutrients from your diet while wading through today’s cesspool, free radicals will eat you and your pet alive. Today’s epidemics are proof of this environmental danger. Supplement with antioxidants correctly and free radicals won’t be able to sink their teeth into your armor. In order for this protection to be effective, however, a complete antioxidant plan must be employed.
These antioxidants also protect the activity of genes and not just the integrity of gene structure. Oxidation is now shown to literally accelerate the activity of genes. One such example is that of COX (cyclo-oxygenase), an enzyme responsible for the synthesis of inflammatory hormones. Oxidation accelerates this conversion to increase the level of inflammatory prostaglandin (PGE2) hormones beyond healthy levels. Typically we use COX inhibitors like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) to block the enzyme. We can also administer target specific antioxidants which block the unnaturally elevated level of oxidation so the gene can function according to its natural design. In this case, the downstream activity of the COX inhibitor (NSAID) will not be required long term.
Antioxidants can be critical navigators of hormone production by the cells from essential fatty acids. Therefore polyunsaturated fatty acid supplements must be used in conjunction with appropriately formulated antioxidant systems as natural metabolic guides for the fats. Gene modulation by nutrient-based compound is also a reality in the treatment diabetes, obesity and chronic inflammation. Research is also demonstrating similar activity at the level of the chondrocyte, the cartilage cell responsible for using glucosamine to manufacture collagen in the joint tissue. These cells can become slow and even dormant in the face of oxidation which converts their nitric oxide levels against them and to the inflammatory peroxynitrite free radical.
The right antioxidant blends can neutralize the variety of imposing free radicals to allow the genes to work according to design- health restoration and maintenance. Since the cells of the aging body begin to slow down their production of endogenous (internally produced) antioxidants oral supplementation must be administered to compensate and maintain youthful function of the body. Antioxidants preserve the integrity of the genetic codes, their downstream messenger molecules and the cells and networks of the intricate biological system.