How Do Antioxidants Work?

I’m amazed sometimes at how many adults tell me they don’t like vegetables!  Come on what are you 6?  But whyyyy they say?  “Cause you need anti oxidants to detox the body” I say.  “70% of what you eat is for detox purposes” I say.  But what are anti oxidants and how do they work?

Here you go!

What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are unique nutrient compounds obtained from certain foods, primarily fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants can be vitamins, minerals, or other phytochemicals (plant chemicals). Your body is also capable of producing antioxidant enzymes which work in conjunction with those you eat. They protect your body from destructive molecules called free radicals. Free radicals are highly-reactive particles, a normal by-product of your metabolism. More about them in a minute.

How do antioxidants work in plants?
Plants, including fruits and vegetables, use these phytochemicals to protect themselves against the stress caused by intense sunlight and harsh growing conditions. When you eat these foods, you get the same antioxidant protection for yourself.

Some foods, such as onions, garlic and red wine, contain dozens of different phytonutrients (the source of antioxidants) all on their own. This reinforces the idea that antioxidants are designed by nature to work together. Research studies have backed this up, showing that antioxidants are much more powerful when they are consumed in combinations.

What are free radicals?
Basically free radicals are highly reactive oxygen molecules created as a normal by-product of your metabolism When you examine your body all the way down to the cellular level, you’ll find atoms with electrons circling around a nucleus, or center. Healthy atoms always have electrons in pairs, each one holding either a positive or negative charge. A free radical is an atom or molecule that has become unstable due to the loss of one or more of its paired electrons.

When one of these particles comes in contact with a stable atom, it will steal the electron it needs from the stable atom, or deposit its extra electron into the stable atom. This starts a domino-effect of free radical reactions, unless the free radicals can be neutralized by restoring the electron pairs.

Oxidative Stress in your body is the same process as an banana rotting or metal rusting, except it’s happening from the inside out. Antioxidants are responsible for preventing this type of oxidative stress and the many health problems associated with aging.

How do antioxidants work to neutralize free radicals?
So how do you turn a free radical back into a harmless cell? You give it the extra electron it wants. And where do you get your supply of extra electrons? You guessed it — from antioxidants! Antioxidants have the ability to surrender electrons to these particles without adding to the chain reaction.

The Natural Anti Oxidant System
The body has a natural antioxidant system too that protects it from toxins and free radicals.  It needs the enzymes and nutrients from food to “turn it on”.  When functioning at a high level, the natural antioxidant system allows for complete detoxification of pollutants and free radicals. These natural antioxidants are produced endogenously, which means they are made inside the body and the most important endogenous antioxidant is called glutathione.  This glutathione is naturally manufactured in the body from three amino acids—cysteine, glycine, and glutamine..

The natural antioxidant system includes three phases, and is called the detoxification super system, or the Anti-inflammatory Cascade. Anti oxidants from food “turn on” this system or cascade.

An example using car emissions
You’re walking down the street and you breathe in car fumes.  Yum!  When you breathe in these fumes, the chemical compound benzene enters the body through your nasal passages, moves through your lungs and what is not exhaled goes into the blood. Your body needs to get rid of this compound, or it will cause oxidative stress that damages cells.

There are three phases that a compound like benzene goes through to be removed from the body. Phase one is considered an activation because it makes the compound more “dirty” or toxic for the body, but it’s a necessary ill on the way to elimination. In phase one, a B vitamin, will attach to the benzene compound, preparing it for “mobilization” so that it can be sent on its way out of the body.

Phase two is where glutathione and the Anti-inflammatory Cascade really come into play. Benzene is mobilized and joined to glutathione or a related antioxidant. It is then ready to be eliminated in phase three through the gut.

If you don’t have a robust internal antioxidant system with adequate glutathione, the benzene is removed more slowly and stays in the blood longer causing more damage. if your gut is unhealthy, the compound will not be excreted and will go back into circulation.

A healthy gut and digestive system is imperative when excreting toxins and getting healthy.  Digestion and bowel movements is so often overlooked in health.  Some of my clients literally have a poop goal!!

Some people can smoke their whole life and not get cancer.  Are they lucky?  No they just have bullet proof detoxification pathways.  But everyone starts with a different genetic ability to detoxify.

How it slows down
Poor diet (I don’t like vegetables!!!), age, lack of physical activity, and excessive exposure to pollutants (cigarettes, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides in food) sap the system, particularly levels of glutathione.  The harder this system has to work expelling toxins the longer free radicals stay in the body doing damage.  That’s why you need to minimise exposure and support the process with food and sometimes supplements

5 Simple Steps to Maximize Your Antioxidant system and Detoxing

1)    Eat your damn veggies! Get lots of phytoplants in your diet and possibly from supplements. Phytoplants refers to antioxidants that come from fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices that will enhance the production of enzymes needed for glutathione and the related endogenous antioxidants to work.

2)  Take a broad spectrum high quality multi vitamin to close any nutritional gaps you may have from less than perfect eating.  The Poliquin Multi vitamins are super high quality and only around $40 for 180 tablets so let me know if you want some

3)    Get adequate protein to provide the amino acids necessary for glutathione synthesis. Remember, the amino acids cysteine, glutamine, and glycine make up glutathione, and lysine, threonine, and taurine support the endogenous antioxidant system.

4)    Methylated B vitamins are perhaps the most critical to keep the body producing glutathione. Be aware that genetic variations influence people’s ability to process B vitamins and produce glutathione and the Anti-inflammatory Cascade.

Each person has a genetic predisposition to be a “fast methylator” or “slow methylator.” If you are a slow methylator, your body’s ability to use B vitamins is impaired. The solution is to take an active form of methylated B vitamins because this will bypass the problem and allow the body to use B vitamins for phase one detox.

5)    Improve gut function with a probiotic. The biggest reason the Anti-inflammatory Cascade is halted is inflammation in the gut. When the third phase of detox is blocked, the phase two enzymes that are necessary for glutathione to work are down regulated, halting the whole process and causing more inflammation.

See you in the gym!

Brad Stocks
Personal Trainer
Bondi Junction

Kartzinel, Jerry. Let’s Talk About Methylation, Glutathione, and Vitamin B12. Generation Rescue Web site. Retrieved 14 March 2012.