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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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January 04 2008

Antioxidants: Fighting the Good Fight

By Worker Bee

While the body’s internal battle between antioxidants and free radicals certainly gets less press coverage than the Kanye vs 50 Cent feud, the war is vital for healthy living (although admittedly, it’s not yet clear how it influences the sale of Cristal!)

In the red corner are free radicals, or molecules with unpaired electrons. Like Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire, this little lady is an unstable molecule just looking for someone special—or, in this case, another electron—to complete her. So rather than signing up for an online dating service like all the other lonely 30-somethings, this molecule barges in on other molecules, altering their chemical structure and causing damage to otherwise healthy cells. These free radicals, which in our bodies most frequently appear in the form of oxygen, are a natural by-product of various cell activities, but can also be created through exposure to tobacco smoke, chemicals, UV radiation and other environmental factors.

In the blue corner, meanwhile, are antioxidants—or the good guys if you will. Defined as any substance that blocks free radicals (and their resulting damage to cells and tissues), these little fellas are thought to reduce the risk of cancer, stroke, and heart disease. Some studies have also suggested that antioxidants may improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiotherapy as well as mitigate some of the therapies’ negative side effects. In addition, antioxidants can also serve as a bit of a fountain of youth, helping delay the signs of aging, both in terms of age-related organ wear-and-tear and the development of wrinkles, decreases in skin elasticity and all the other “benefits” the good folks over at AARP conveniently forgets to tip you off on.

Popular antioxidants include protein enzymes as well as vitamins C and E, beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A) and lycopene. Antioxidants are most frequently found in bright colored fruits and vegetables including carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, mango and—in case you have an aversion to orange foods—broccoli, spinach, corn, tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon. In addition, you can find antioxidants in nuts, grains, and certain varieties of beef, poultry and fish, and foods with high flavonoid contents—a particularly potent form of antioxidant—including red wine (yay!) and dark chocolate (double yay!).

val’sphotos Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

The Biggest Myth About Cancer: It Just “Happens”

A Visual Guide to Antioxidants

Wine Prevents Cavities

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TAGS:  Aging, prevention

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17 thoughts on “Antioxidants: Fighting the Good Fight”

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  1. One antioxidant I see all over billboards and grocery stores is pomegranate juice. Is pomegranate juice really leaps and bounds ahead of oranges and tomatoes, or is it just a good advertising campaign by the Pom people?

  2. Chester,

    Probably ahead of orange and tomato, but only slightly…and then you have to be careful, because a cup of the POM juice that delivers, say 800 ORAC, also delivers 25 grams of sugar.

  3. Hey Mark, I just want to say thanks for this and many other tidbits of excellent nutrition and health information.

    Yes, antioxidants are good for us, but the emerging research is far more exciting. I believe that the understanding and correct utilization of vitamin and “newer” natural dietary antioxidants- phytochemicals, polyphenols, flavonoids, stilbenes, and more- is the future of medicine.

    Cholesterol causes heart disease? Nope, sorry. Bad science. And no longer accepted by those in the know. The new consensus among researchers is that oxidative stress in the vascular wall causes atherosclerosis. Some doctors now understand this. Yours probably doesn’t.

    Free radical damage hardens your arteries. It’s a biological fact. Procyanidins “soften” them, keeping them young and flexible- also proven in animal and human studies. Apple polyphenols, purple grape juice, red wine, green tea, whole vitamin E. Problem solved.

    What’s really exciting (to me, anyway) is that we can actually alter gene expression through nutrition. Andrew Dannenberg, M.D., director of cancer prevention at New York Presbyterian Hospital puts it this way: “It might just be that the most effective form of gene therapy is diet.”

    Out at UCLA Berkeley, Dr. Lester Packer has discovered that antioxidants actually control our genes, switching them on and off.

    Diet as gene therapy. Super-antioxidants as immediate and sustained molecular intervention. Prevention treatment and actual reversal of disease and aging symptoms. Available now. Revolutionary stuff.

    So kids, when Mark tells you to eat your daily apple, you listen up, OK? Because he’s headed in the right direction- toward the new and exciting future of deeper biochemical medicine and real-time control of the molecular and genetic realities that underlie health, disease, and human aging.

    David L. Kern
    New Health & Longevity