Aging Part 3: the Power of Antioxidants
It has been known for millenia that adhering to a diet strongly rich in fruits and vegetables, is highly beneficial to overall holistic health. People that focus on the greens at every meal, tend to be generally leaner, live longer lives, suffer from substantially less disease and age-related ailments, have higher overall energy levels and significantly improved moods. Modern science has only recently begun to piece together the exact nature of the components found in these natural super-foods, which are hard at work conferring beneficial health properties to everyone wise enough to indulge in them rather than MacDonald’s. The main functional constituents, are known collectively as ‘antioxidants’, and will be discussed below.
If we think back to our first note regarding one of the major causes of the aging process, we will remember that ‘toxic’ substances are produced in each of our cells’ energy factories, the mitochondria. These toxic substances are derived from oxygen, and are inevitably produced during normal cell metabolism. They are far more reactive than normal oxygen, which means they must be very quickly removed to prevent damage to the cell’s DNA and other structures. This is where antioxidants step in.
These potent substances can knock out the detrimental oxygen by-products (hence their name) produced during normal cell functioning, decreasing the cumulative damage seen with advancing age. The body actually boasts a repertoire of its own antioxidant defenses which are constantly at work protecting us from the majority of damage. These however, tend to be overwhelmed in conditions of high food intake (think being overweight or obese), certain disease conditions, poor diet, as well as age.
Thus, a simple and effective way of boosting the body’s natural antioxidant army, is to obtain these from a plant-rich diet. In addition, supplementation with Vitamin E, C and/or A has been shown to have positive effects on lifelong health. Ensure that you have at least 2 different vegetables on your plate at EACH meal (and this should really be the minimum), and that you’re eating 5-6 servings of fresh fruit over the course of the day.
In addition, eating fruits in place of other sugary snacks is beneficial in another way. The sugar found in fruit is in the form of fructose, rather than sucrose (table sugar). This type of sugar leads to a lower, and much more gradual increase in blood sugar, rather than the rapid sugar spike that occurs after eating something which has been artificially sweetened with a sucrose-based sweetener. This is very important in preventing the development of Type-II diabetes, which may soon become the leading cause of death worldwide.
Aside from serving as a plentiful source of these vital antioxidant substances, plants are also packed to the brim with less well-characterized substances collectively known as phytochemicals. While the exact function of many of these remains poorly understood, these secondary nutrients have been implicated in the prevention and alleviation of many chronic diseases. Lycopene, found in tomatoes is a good example of this. Not only does it have powerful antioxidant capacity, but can work as a sun-screen as well. The amount found in a single tomato, is equivalent to applying an SPF 15 to the skin. The sun’s radiation is a potent ‘age-er’, and will be discussed in more detail next week.
Together, the cocktail of vital substrates which can be obtained from plants is grossly superior to anything that can be found in a supplement pill. While it remains a good idea to take a daily multivitamin in order to plug any vitamin deficiency your diet may be allowing, strive to eat as many different types of plant-foods every day.