Metals rust, fruit and vegetables wilt, fats go rancid … the human body is by no means the only victim of oxidation, the process that leads to irreversible cell damage and which is associated with around 100 diseases - cancer and cardiovascular problems topping the list. In humans, it has a major but largely unknown origin: the vital conversion of oxygen into water
. In fact, this conversion is not 100% perfect: 2-3% of the oxygen gets converted into unstable and highly aggressive compounds called reactive oxygen species
(ROS). These toxic compounds extract electrons from all the cellular material in their path, causing chaos in the body: denaturation of proteins, inactivation of enzymes, damage to DNA, mutations which eventually lead to cancer...
Fortunately, the body is prepared for such attacks - at least in theory. It uses two complementary antioxidant defence systems: one internal, consisting of enzymes (such as glutathione peroxidase), tiny molecules (such as carotenoids, vitamins C and E, uric acid, bilirubin, and ubiquinone) and proteins (ferritin, transferrin), and the other external, which relies on dietary intake of antioxidants produced by other organisms, particularly vegetables. In both cases, the objective is to ensure the right balance
between the amount of reactive species generated, and the level of antioxidants necessary to neutralise them.
However, this balance can be upset when:
- Reactive Oxygen Species are generated so rapidly that they overwhelm both defence systems.
- External antioxidant intake is inadequate and the body’s internal system can no longer compensate.
In either case, it is important to act fast
. The ‘imbalance of power’ leads to oxidative stress which is self-perpetuating1
. Once oxidation reactions are initiated, a chain reaction is triggered which only stops when everything is oxidised.
The only way to intervene effectively is with antioxidants, and while all dietary antioxidants can stem the process, some are more effective than others, depending on the particular situation.
The antioxidant for those with ‘screen eyes’
The conversion of oxygen into water is not the only factor responsible for generating reactive oxygen species
. Smoke, wind, sun and also light place the body under continual attack, particularly the eyes, which are in constant contact with the environment. Those who work in front of a screen all day, or who frequently look at their tablets, smartphones and TVs, are regularly exposing themselves to blue light, a light spectrum recognised for its harmful effects on the retina and cornea2
(one of the rare body tissues not to contain blood vessels). Over time, the reactive oxygen species
generated by the effects of radiation damage the cells in the eye and promote the development of three ocular diseases: AMD, cataracts and presbyopia3
To counteract oxidation of eye cells and absorb some of the light rays that damage the retina, by far the best solution is ingestion of carotenoids
, particularly lutein
, which together with zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin make up the yellow pigment of the macula. The thicker this macular pigment, the lower the risk of AMD or cataract4,5,6
: green cabbage (24 mg), spinach (20 mg), squash (3-4 mg), broccoli (2 mg), peas (2 mg).
The perfect lutein supplement : Lutein 20 mg
The antioxidant for sun-seekers
The sun’s rays, particularly ultraviolet radiation, contributes significantly to levels of oxidative stress in those with regular exposure to the sun. Plants, which rely almost exclusively on this source of energy, have adapted to protect themselves from its harmful effects by producing and using carotenoid antioxidants. And this works on our skin too7
! Eating foods rich in carotenoids, particularlylycopene
, translates directly into an increase in the skin’s lycopene content, improving absorption of UV rays and reducing deterioration of cells8
. And it’s a worthwhile reduction, as over the long term, cell deterioration causes premature ageing of the skin and promotes the development of skin cancer – 50-70% of skin cancer cases are directly associated with over-exposure to UV rays.
Even though consumption of lycopene (the best food sources of which are the summer fruits tomatoes and melons) can reduce the erythema caused by overexposure to the sun, it should never be seen as a replacement for topical sun protection. Its role is primarily to boost the skin’s antioxidant defences in people who spend a lot of time outside9
. That is why it is important to ensure a regular intake of lycopene, which can be facilitated by taking a supplement.
: guava (5 mg), watermelon (4.5 mg), tomatoes (3 mg), papaya (1.8 mg), grapefruit (1.7 mg).
The perfect lycopene supplement : Lyc-O-Mato®
The antioxidant for sports enthusiasts
Physical exercise, when taken regularly and relatively intensively, also causes oxidative stress. The body is able to adjust its antioxidant production to compensate, but over time, requires an increase in external supply of antioxidants to avoid being overwhelmed. One of the antioxidants it most needs is vitamin C. The recommended daily amount of vitamin C for a normal adult is 110mg/day but sports enthusiasts are advised to increase this significantly10,11
. This particular antioxidant helps restore glycogen reserves, contributes to muscle tissue synthesis and improves absorption of iron, requirements for which also increase with physical activity.
Studies have shown that adequate supplementation by sportspeople improves their antioxidant defences and immune systems12
and may also improve performance13
. It is, however, important for supplementation to remain reasonable – excessive levels may produce exactly the opposite of the desired effect (pro-oxidant).
Vitamin C-rich foods
: red pepper (100-160 mg), papaya (90 mg), kiwi (70 mg), orange (70 mg), mango (55 mg).
The perfect vitamin C supplement : Liposomal Vitamin C
The solution for those with a poor diet
Dozens of studies show that those with low blood levels of antioxidants are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease14
and on this basis, nutrition experts across the globe recommend eating more fruit and vegetables. Unfortunately, however, this does not seem to be working: a study conducted a few years ago showed that only 4% of Western populations were actually consuming the minimum five portions of fruit and vegetables recommended by health authorities15
For those who are not eating a balanced diet, it may be better to concentrate on consuming a wide range of antioxidants at nutritional doses rather than one specific antioxidant at a high dose. Researchers at University of California’s School of Public Health have also identified other groups of people for whom such advice is equally relevant16
The perfect synergistic multivitamin : Daily 3
- the over-60s
- women of child-bearing age
- women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- heavy smokers or drinkers
- those on a weight-loss diet.