What are free radicals and why shouldn’t they be free? Why have green tea extracts suddenly hit the big screen, playing supporting roles in everything like some new whole food’s MSG? Stay tuned…
Antioxidants get more media play than any summer blockbuster celeb fresh out of rehab could ever hope to aspire to. You say you don’t like tea..no problem. These days herbal extracts are trigger-happily infused into everything from chewing gum to butter biscuits, and why is that? Antioxidants my friends. These potent biochemicals boast less filling, long lasting protection from the aging damage of free floating electrons (free radicals) aimed at ripping your cells apart one at a time. We’ll get to that.
Free Radicals..why so serious?
Why don’t we like free radicals? Short answer: people are terrified of growing old. More specifically, free radicals are molecules with unpaired electrons that are highly reactive. Since this molecule is missing electrons it tends to pull what it needs from another molecule which in turn curses that molecule to become a free radical too. Now you have a molecular zombie apocalypse on your hands.
Antioxidants have the charismatic ability to donate electrons without becoming unstable themselves. They effectively neutralize these potentially harmful chain reactions before critical damage to cellular structures, or more importantly, before damage to intracellular DNA can occur (which can lead to mutation and the potential proliferation of cancerous cells).
So how do we stock up on these taster’s choice, biochemical riot police? This is where vitamins come in handy. I can think of two that are perfectly suited for the job. Vitamin E and C are both all natural and metabolically bad to the bone.
I like to call them the dynamic duo (I’m weird that way). What is particularly interesting about these vitamins is that their chemical properties (water vs. fat solubility) influences what borders they protect. Not unlike G.I. Joe special forces troops, they are both adapted to different environments. Vitamin E is fat soluble and is well adapted for combating nasty oxidizing substances that build up in the tissues (like peroxides) as a result of metabolic processes. Vitamin C is water soluble and is perfectly suited for cruising through the fluids of cells, neutralizing drama caused by harmful toxins from the environment that slip into the bloodstream. What kind of environmental toxins you ask? Well let’s just say it’s no coincidence that prolonged cigarette smoke mimics the wrinkling effects of aging.
mmm..green tea, good to the last phenol
The reason why green tea gets so much Cosmo cover girl hype is due largely to the potent, plentiful compounds locked inside the leaves (Camellia sinensis) called polyphenols. Polyphenols are a great source of antioxidants and since all you have to due to reap the benefits of this biochemically active compound is brew a cup and drink the stuff I think the street credit is well deserved.
Well, ok just one thing…there are different classes of polyphenols, some of which aren’t so warm and fuzzy when it comes to nutrient availability. Green tea has a sleek, sexy user friendly form called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which has only been used in herbal medicine for a few thousand years or so (which is why I feel perfectly happy drinking the stuff). Red wine has resveratrol which is believed to help keep cholesterol levels in check (when consumed responsibly of course). It’s still a hotly debated topic in nutritional research. There are certainly benefits to imbibing beneficial “super fruit” juices and extracts but you may have to wait around for a while before a recommended dietary value is actually agreed upon. Sorry kids, but as soon as the scientific community figures it out I’ll be all over it like cheap wine on khaki slacks. In the meantime, stay classy and never stop learning.