Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Antioxidants And Pesky Free Radicals

      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 (Calabrese, 2009).

      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.

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