What Everyone Should Know
Today many people have heard of antioxidants. Most don’t really understand the term, but they generally know that they’re good for them.
Antioxidants have frequented media headlines, as they can play a role in the prevention of so many conditions, especially those associated with aging. In fact, in addition to a strategy to limit inflammation, anti-aging programs typically include antioxidants.
What are antioxidants?
So what are antioxidants and how do they protect us? To illustrate antioxidant activity, one can simply think of an apple that’s been sliced in half. Normally, due to the oxidants in the air, the exposed part of the apple would turn brown quickly. However, if one were to squeeze lemon juice on the flesh of the apple immediately after slicing, the apple would take longer to turn color. In this case the lemon juice contains antioxidants, which are able to protect the apple’s flesh.
To understand the concept of oxidants and antioxidants it helps to have some basic understanding of cells, atoms and electrons. Basically an oxidant is an atom or molecule that is short of an electron and attempts to acquire it from another molecule, which in the case of our bodies, often happens at our cell linings or membranes. When an oxidant successfully “steals” an electron from a molecule lining our cells, this then sets up a chain reaction. The molecule that gave up the electron to the oxidant in turn tries to get one back from a neighboring molecule in the same cell membrane. Once initiated, this process repeats itself over and over and as a result, the cell lining can become slightly weaker or damaged. The impact of this process ultimately “ages” our cells, not allowing them to function optimally. This sounds serious, but in reality it is an ongoing natural process, with oxidants “attacking” our cells in search of an electron and at the same time antioxidants providing the electron in order to minimize the damage. Antioxidants can simply be thought of as “electron donors”.
To demonstrate how significant antioxidants are to anti-aging programs, one needs only to look at the lifespan of a chimpanzee. Scientists have speculated that the reason chimps live approximately half as long as humans, despite having very similar physiology and genetics, is that the antioxidant mechanisms of a chimp are not nearly as effective, resulting in faster aging and therefore earlier death. There are many types of oxidants, which therefore results in several different antioxidants needed to maintain a healthful balance. Vitamin C and E are perhaps our most commonly used antioxidant nutrients. There are several supporting interactions between these nutrients.
When we eat a healthful diet with lots of veggies and fruit we are consuming several antioxidants. A simple key to ensure that we get a broad spectrum of protection is to eat a “rainbow” diet. Often the foods with the highest concentration of antioxidants occur in the colored or highly pigmented fruits and veggies.
There are hundreds of carotenoids that function as antioxidants, with lycopene and lutein presently enjoying popularity as single supplements. The carotenoids, of which beta-carotene is perhaps the best known, are derived from the “warm” colored foods: yellow, orange and red. In plants carotenoids are interesting in terms of cancer prevention, as they protect plants from the radiation resulting from extended exposure to the sun’s rays.
Another group of very potent antioxidants are called flavonoids. Plants and flowers often derive their color from these substances. Flavonoids are also responsible for many of the medicinal properties of plants. Some of the most commonly used flavonoid-rich herbs include ginkgo, bilberry, green tea and grapeseed extract. A very interesting thing about many flavonoids is that they often seem to be tissue specific. For example bilberry supports the eyes primarily, gingko and grapeseed the blood vessels and milk thistle the liver.
IP6 vs Green Tea
As a famed antioxidant, green tea has been extensively studied for its anti-cancer affects. The Japanese have one of the longest life expectancies and many attribute their longevity to the regular consumption of green tea. Researchers Challa et al, published results in the journal Carcinogenesis (1997), in which they investigated the effects of green tea versus IP6. The investigators wanted to know which nutrient was better able to prevent digestive disorders and whether there was a synergistic effect when green tea and IP6 were used together. There results showed that green tea had a marginal effect, whereas IP6 had a much more pronounced effect. Researchers also showed a very strong enhanced or synergistic effect of the IP6 and green tea together.
12 Available Electrons
You can see in the first picture, how the calcium and magnesium are bound to phosphorus (P) in the IP6 molecule with a double bond. The double bond implies that two electrons are being shared. In the second picture the calcium and magnesium having been removed from the IP6 molecule and these minerals can now be used by the body. Now there are twelve oxygen (O-) with an extra electron. The twelve extra electrons can now be used to neutralize various types of oxidants.As a supplement, when we consume IP6 it’s usually bound to minerals such as sodium, iron or calcium and magnesium. In the case of Cal Mag IP6 (the type used in IP6 Health), the molecule is bound to 6 of the double positively charged calcium or magnesium atoms. After absorption, the body removes and uses the calcium and magnesium atoms. We are then left with an IP6 molecule that has 12 extra electrons that it can give up and ultimately use to defuse oxidizing agents. This means that in many cases, each IP6 molecule can neutralize up to a dozen oxidants. No wonder this simple rice extract is one of our most potent antioxidants.
Intracellular & Extracellular Protection
IP6 is in all of our tissues and inside all of our cells. It can therefore provide both intracellular (inside the cell) and extracellular (outside the cell) systemic protection. In addition, research is now indicating that inositol also provides some antioxidant activity as well.
In a single generation the awareness and acceptance of antioxidant protection has risen from that of a seldom used medical term to that of a common everyday expression. I expect antioxidants to gain even more prominence due to their ever increasing use in anti-aging formulas. Because there are so many types of oxidizing agents, for comprehensive protection we need a broad spectrum of antioxidants. Fortunately by eating a rainbow selection of fruits and vegetables we can achieve most of our antioxidant requirements. Additionally, IP6 and inositol provides extra intracellular and extracellular protection.