Antioxidants are compounds that are important to the body and used in many metabolic pathways. Normally in the body these compounds provide protection from damaging molecules, known as free radicals. Free radicals cause aging and can be the start of other reactions that lead may even lead to death. Many studies have investigated the benefits of antioxidants as they are found to be beneficial. However most researchers agree that the source of antioxidants is important and the concentration is important as supplements are not very effective and at too high doses antioxidants are dangerous. Researchers agree that Krill Oil is one of the best sources of anti-oxidants.
The Oxidative Challenge in Biology
The oxidative challenge is also known as oxidative stress. Most living creatures, particularly humans, require oxygen for life. However while oxygen is necessary it can also damage organisms in the form of reactive oxygen molecules. However this reactive oxygen is beneficial to cells at low levels. Antioxidant systems are used to stop too much reactive oxygen molecules from forming and if levels do get too high the antioxidants remove reactive oxygen molecules, creating a balance in the body.
Antioxidants can be categorized into two different types of metabolites: hydrophilic antioxidants and hydrophobic antioxidants. Hydrophobic types do not like water and are generally lipids. Hydrophilic versions do like water and can easily dissolve in water. Hydrophilic types are active in the blood and interior of the cell, while lipid antioxidants are active in the cell membrane. All the interactions that these different antioxidants are involved are currently unknown as the processes are very complex. Metabolites and enzymes in the body can have beneficial relationships and may be dependent on each other in order to function.
Pro-oxidants are chemicals that can inhibit antioxidants or create reactive oxygen molecules. The products of reactions with pro-oxidants cause damage to the body, some damage can even be fatal. There are some compounds that can function as pro-oxidants or antioxidants depending on different conditions. Many times the presence of oxygen or metal ions will dictate how the chemical acts. Normally reactive oxygen compounds are created only if copper, ion or magnesium metals are present. If these metals are not present then the compound acts as an antioxidant.
Cells in the body are protected from stress by a network of antioxidants and enzymes. Therefore for a reactive oxygen molecule to be completely broken down into a “safe” molecule several conversions, using several antioxidant enzymes are required. Normally the first type of antioxidant enzyme that changes the reactive oxygen molecule is a superoxide dismutase. This reduces the molecule into hydrogen peroxide and an oxygen anion. Then another class of enzymes, peroxidases catalases, will break down hydrogen peroxide into water. There are several different types of antioxidant enzyme systems in the body depending on the location in the body and the type of reactive oxygen molecule that needs to be broken down.
Oxidative Stress in Disease
Oxidative stress is an imbalance in production and then removal of reactive oxygen molecules. When these two processes are imbalance damage to the body can occur. This stress has been linked to several diseases, including diabetes, neurodegeneration, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and motor neuron diseases. A direct link has been found between oxidative stress and cancer, as there are many antioxidant enzymes that protect DNA. Currently it is unknown if oxidative stress causes the diseases or if this stress is a secondary effect of the disease. Natural sources that are high in antioxidants, such as vegetables and fruits, have been found to promote health and reduce the effects of reactive oxygen molecules.
Health effects of antioxidants are beneficial at the right levels. When antioxidants are taken at very high concentrations they can be very damaging to the body. However specific antioxidants have been found to be very beneficial and antioxidants are important for many metabolic pathways in the body. An issue that has stumped many researchers are the fact that antioxidants that are consumed directly from foods have much greater effects than those from supplements. So how you get your antioxidants will also affect the health.
Antioxidants are frequently used to treat specific types of brain injury, as the brain is particularly vulnerable to injury due to reactive oxygen molecules. Ebselen, an antioxidant that removes hydrogen peroxide, and the experimental antioxidant Cerovive, are being used to treat stroke. The antioxidants, propofol and sodium thiopental, are used for treatment of traumatic brain injuries and brain tissue damage. There is much research being conducted to use antioxidants to treat noise induced hearing loss, Parkinson’s’ disease and Alzheimer’s.
Some studies have also shown that individuals that have high antioxidant diets, or diets high in fruits and vegetables, have a much lower risk of neurological diseases and heart diseases than those that do not consume as much antioxidants. There are specific vegetables and many fruits that provide protection for cancer. However research has shown that the form of antioxidants in its natural state, in the food, is important as the same beneficial results are not found when individuals take antioxidant supplements.
Exercise causes the body to increase the amount of oxygen in the body which can then lead to an increase in reactive oxygen molecules. In particular muscle fatigue after strenuous exercise is a type of oxidative stress. It can take the body from two to seven days to get the body back into balance. It is thought that antioxidants can help the body adapt to the higher levels of oxygen in the body but research results are inconclusive as in some instances antioxidants are beneficial and in some instances they are not.
There are some types of antioxidants, name strong acids such as tannins and oxalic acid that can stop the absorption of important minerals into the body. In particular zinc and iron are not absorbed. Some antioxidants may also be toxic if too much is taken. Some studies have shown that very high doses of antioxidants can actually increase the rate of cancer. Therefore the amount of antioxidants taken is important, as too much is not beneficial.
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