We have all heard about free radicals and antioxidants. Understanding the mechanisms of both within our bodies is an important factor when we are deciding the foods to make as staples of our diets. All diseases increase free radicals. So this means if we up the vitamin c supplementation then we will live forever? Not so fast.
Studies have shown that when an antioxidant is administered alone it
does not protect against DNA damage caused by free radicals. One such
study was published in the British Journal of Nutrition. This study
gave one group of participants orange juice and another group a sugar
drink with vitamin c added. The study concluded by saying that there
were no observable changes in the sugar drink with added vitamin c, but
the orange juice showed protection against DNA damage and they believe
the phytochemicals of foods are the reason (Guarnieri, 2007).
Phytochemicals are what separates fruits and vegetables from grains.
According to the previous study this means all the fortified bread
products are not protecting us from free radical damage. Grains that
are poorly digested will actually increase free radical damage due to
their ability to cross the gut lining and cause an inflammation
response. This increased oxidative stress can actually increase our
risk for disease. Taking a multivitamin is not the answer to long term
health either. A supplemental antioxidant is in and out of the system
within an hour. When our genes turn on our adaptive stress response, it
can actually stay on for days. Exercise is a good example of this. We
cause oxidative damage while exercising that turns on our adaptive
stress response. We build more muscle tissue and mitochondria to adapt
to that new stressor. This all takes time.
Phytochemicals are what plants utilize to protect themselves. There
is always an adaptive war going on between species. Plants develop
these for protection and our bodies then will be forced to adapt to
counteract them and so on. These phytochemicals in plants will turn on
our adaptive stress response. These phytochemicals actually cause
oxidative stress and our system has to respond. Acetylcarnitine
communicates with our cells and turns on our vitagenes. Vitagenes in
studies have been shown to have strong protective qualities including
the ability to kill off cancer cells and to prevent neurodegeneration
The generals behind this cell communication are called transcription
proteins. Transcription proteins come in all kinds of shapes and sizes
so that they fit directly with specific nutrients and hormones. Once
the protein combines with the nutrient or hormone it can enter the cell
and alter the cell’s DNA. In terms of our adaptive stress response
Nuclear Factor Kappa Beta (NF-KB) and NRF2 are the important ones.
Natural antioxidants from plant matter tend to down regulate NF-KB2
and free radicals increase it. An increase in NF-KB is strongly
associated with cancer growth. NRF2 on the other hand has been
associated with protection from cancer and other stress related diseases
(Bellezza, 2010). NRF2 looks for free radicals and upon their
discovery turns on the antioxidant enzymes.
Our lifestyle choices are what turn these transcription proteins on
and off. Choosing a diet rich in phytochemicals can help increase our
protective NRF2 transcription proteins and protect us from the stress
related diseases that plague us as a country. Eating fortified foods
and taking a multivitamin will not have the same health benefits as
eating foods where these nutrients are found naturally. Some food
choices that have been shown to increase NRF2 are broccoli, cauliflower,
onions, garlic, green tea, and coffee. Melatonin, ALA, CoQ10 also
elicits a response from NRF2.