The Scoop on Antioxidants
Your doctor, your health advocate
One of the roles of a good physician is to educate his or her patients on diseases. This is the concept behind immunizations, flu shots, mammograms and your doctor telling you to cut back on the cheeseburgers, stop the smoking and get out and exercise. As doctors, we have an obligation to our patients to help them prevent medical conditions before they start. This is the key reasoning behind the use of antioxidants.
What is an antioxidant?
Antioxidants are not new. They occur naturally in our bodies and in the foods we eat. Some, but not all, are vitamins (i.e. Vitamin C and Vitamin E). As the name implies, antioxidants are molecules found in nature that slow or prevent oxidation.
Oxidation is caused by molecules called free radicals. Free radicals can wreak havoc on our bodies by breaking up collagen, elastic fibers, proteins and DNA. They can interfere with the chemical processes that normally keep us healthy.
In short, free radicals damage the important molecules that help us stay health and looking good. They damage our tissue and kill our cells. This process is called "oxidative stress" and has been implicated in pathogenesis of many human diseases, including heart disease and cancer, and is a key player in the process of aging.
Our bodies can normally handle free radicals, but if antioxidants are unavailable or if the free radical production becomes excessive, damage can occur. This is important because in the 21st century our exposure to free radicals is increasing and this free radical damage accumulates with age.
How do we prevent aging?
Since oxidative stress from free radicals may promote aging, heart disease and cancer, how do we prevent it? We can start by reducing our exposure to environmental sources of toxins and radiation that produce free radicals in our bodies. The big environmental sources include UV radiation from the sun, chemicals in our food and drinking water, ozone, air pollution and exposure to cigarette smoke.
We should take steps to limit our exposure to the sun's radiation, such as avoiding prolonged direct exposure, wearing protective clothing and hats, and using sunscreen frequently and liberally.
Our diets should also include foods that are high in antioxidants and low in added chemicals, eating 5-8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, and limiting our intake of processed foods and high-fat animal products. A general rule of thumb is this: The more processed the food is, the more chemicals are added and the more nutrients are removed. Animal fats have been known to harbor hormones and harmful chemicals, so these should be limited as well.
The best food sources of antioxidants include berries, nuts and seeds (walnuts, sunflower seeds), ginger, fruits (pomegranate, grape, orange, plum, pineapple, lemon, dates, kiwi, grapefruit), beans (soy beans, pinto and broad), organic vegetables (kale, peppers, cabbage, parsley, artichoke, Brussels sprouts and spinach) and whole cereals (barley, millet, oats and corn).
Finally, we may consider supplements to our diets and add protective barriers to our skin to remove free radicals after they form. There are several new skin products that remove free radicals from out skin from sunlight exposure, particularly products that contain idebenone, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, lipoic acid, coenzyme Q10 and kinetin.
Allergan produces a product called Prevage MD that contains 1 percent idebenone, which has been shown to be the most powerful antioxidant available in a skin care product today.