How Antioxidants Work Kari
The birth and death of cells in the body goes on continuously, 24 hours a day. It's a process that's necessary to keep the body healthy. Oxidation is a very natural process that happens during normal cellular functions. It happens to all cells in nature. A sliced apple turns brown. Fish becomes rancid. A cut on your skin becomes raw and inflamed. A metal chain rusts. This produces some type of change in those cells. They may die, such as with rotting fruit. In the case of cut skin, dead cells are replaced in time by fresh, new cells, resulting in a healed cut. Yet there is a downside to the process. While the body metabolizes oxygen very efficiently, 1% or 2% of cells will get damaged in the process and turn into free radicals.
What are Free Radicals?
Through science we know that our cells are assaulted over our lifetimes by inflammation and free radicals. Damage over time creates tissue destruction that eventually leads to aging and degenerative disease.
Our cells produce destructive particles called free radicals as they go through their normal metabolic functions. Other origins of free radicals in our bodies: inflammation, stress, environmental toxins, ultraviolet radiation, x-ray radiation, low magnesium levels and immune activation. You can picture free radicals as red hot particles bouncing around inside a cell burning anything they come into contact with such as your DNA, cell membranes and proteins in the cytoplasm. Some of these proteins are enzymes, responsible for driving thousands of chemical reactions in our bodies. When enzymes are destroyed the reactions they catalyze will not take place. We understand that damage to our DNA is never a good thing and when our cell membranes are damaged the covering of the cell itself, as well as the membranes of all the cellular structures inside the cell, are no longer efficiently getting nutrients in and waste out. All of this free radical damage causes our cells to weaken and malfunction; this is the process of aging and, in extreme cases, degenerative disease.
We know that inflammation, infections, traumatic injuries, burns and even stress all increase metabolism, and based on the severity these situations can cause a very high production of free radicals that flood the body causing further harm.
Inflammation is a part of the body’s natural healing process, it is only when the inflammatory process becomes excessive and prolonged that problems arise. Silent chronic inflammation is now known to be an underlying factor in most debilitating diseases.
Free radicals are both a cause and a result of inflammation. Damage from free radicals causes inflammation; chronic inflammation goes on to produce lots of free radicals which in turn create more inflammation. This is a vicious cycle which can damage many systems in the body. The thyroid, heart and pancreas, can be affected. Inflammation can be likened to a forest fire that rages out of control in your body.
What causes these lousy Free Radicals anyway?
Free radicals are created as a result of the process of oxidation, when a substance combines with oxygen. This is part of the body's normal metabolism, and does increase with age. Free radicals can also be created by the immune system to help destroy bacteria and viruses during an infection. And they can form as a result of exposure to certain chemicals, environmental toxins like pollution, stress, solar radiation, and cigarette smoke.
Under normal circumstances the body can easily rid itself of free radicals. But problems can occur if the number of free radicals increases beyond the body's ability to neutralize or destroy them.
Why are Free Radicals dangerous?
At the molecular level, the chain reaction of electron "theft" can affect the cell membrane (the outer covering of the cell) by making it either too vulnerable or too resistant to outside influences. It can also damage the cell's DNA, causing the cell to malfunction or reproduce abnormally.
At the level of the entire body, free radicals can cause LDL ("bad") cholesterol in the blood to stick to the walls of the blood vessels, resulting in atherosclerosis, a leading cause of heart disease. They can damage parts of the eye, resulting in cataracts or macular degeneration (a progressive condition leading to blindness). And if they affect cell reproduction, they can cause different forms of cancer.
It's easy to imagine that the causes of free radicals are all around us, and to wonder what damage they're doing even now. Fortunately, nature has provided us with substances that can reduce our levels of free radicals. These substances are called antioxidants.
Let's talk about Inflamation
The word inflammation comes from the Latin"inflammo", meaning "I set alight, I ignite". By definition, Inflammation is the body's attempt at self-protection; the aim being to remove harmful stimuli, including damaged cells, irritants, or pathogens - and begin the healing process.
When something harmful or irritating affects a part of our body, there is a biological response to try to remove it, the signs and symptoms of inflammation, specifically acute inflammation, show that the body is trying to heal itself. Inflammation does not mean infection, even when an infection causes inflammation. Infection is caused by a bacterium, virus or fungus, while inflammation is the body's response to it.
Inflammation is part of the body's immune response. Initially, it is beneficial when, for example, your knee sustains a blow and tissues need care and protection. However, sometimes inflammation can cause further inflammation; it can become self-perpetuating. More inflammation is created in response to the existing inflammation. Inflamation causes free radicals!
To help your body protect itself from the negative rigors of oxidation, Mother Nature provides thousands of different antioxidants in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. When your body needs to put up its best defense, especially true in today's environment, antioxidants become crucial to your health!
So, what's the connection between Inflamation and Anthocyanins?
Let's look at a study published in 2010 in Annual Review of Food Science Technology:
Anthocyanins are flavonoids in fruits and vegetables that render them vivid red to blue. To date, there have been more than 635 anthocyanins identified in nature, featuring six common aglycones and various types of glycosylations and acylations. Dietary consumption of anthocyanins is high compared to other flavonoids, owing to their wide distribution in plant materials. Based upon many cell-line studies, animal models, and human clinical trials, it has been suggested that anthocyanins possess anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic activity, cardiovascular disease prevention, obesity control, and diabetes alleviation properties, all of which are more or less associated with their potent antioxidant property.
Where can I get a whole bunch of antioxidants, you may ask?
In 2001, the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry published results of a study that is a very exciting game changer to the scientific community. The study was titled "Oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC*) and phenolic anthocyanin concentrations in fruit and leaf tissues of highbush blueberry."
(*The antioxidant values of foods listed are expressed in "ORAC" (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) units, a unit of measurement for antioxidants developed by the National Institute on Aging in the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Well, let's take a look at where Blueberries rate on the *ORAC scale:
Not bad, huh?! 2nd only to PrunesNow, back to the results of that 2001 study. They found that:
BLUEBERRY LEAF IS SIGNIFICANTLY HIGHER IN
ANTHOCYANIN ANTIOXIDANT LEVELS THAN BLUEBERRIES!
Blueberry FRUIT: 15.9 ORAC Antioxidant Levels
Blueberry LEAF: 490.0 ORAC Antioxidant Levels
That means Blueberry LEAF is 30.6 TIMES HIGHER
in Anthocyanin Antioxidants than blueberries!