Anti-oxidants: Why Do They Matter?
What is oxidation?
Oxidation is a chemical reaction that takes place when cells or substances are exposed to oxygen. It is happening all the time, since we live in an oxygen-rich environment. Oxidation reactions cause iron to rust, potato chips to spoil, milk to go sour, and oil or meat to turn rancid. The process of oxidation releases free radicals.
What are free radicals?
A free radical is an oxygen-containing molecule that has one or more unpaired electrons, making it highly reactive with other molecules. Free radicals can chemically interact with cell components such as DNA, protein, or fat, stealing their electrons in order to become stabilized. This, in turn, destabilizes the cell component molecules, which then steal an electron from another molecule, thereby triggering a large chain of free radical reactions. They’re the byproduct of metabolism, and they’re also formed when the body is exposed to chemicals, pesticides, vaccines, heavy metals, processed foods, pollution, and radiation.
What is oxidative stress?
Oxidative stress is an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to detoxify their harmful effects. Generally, oxygen by-products are relatively non-reactive, but some can undergo metabolism within the body to give rise to highly reactive oxidants. The body combats these reactive oxidants with antioxidants.
(And you thought everything you learned in chemistry class was useless.)
What are antioxidants?
Every cell that utilizes enzymes and oxygen to function is exposed to oxygen free radical reactions. These have the potential to cause serious damage to the cell. Antioxidants are molecules in the cells that prevent these reactions by donating an electron to the free radicals without becoming destabilized themselves. An imbalance between oxidants and antioxidants is the underlying basis of oxidative stress. Antioxidants are an important nutrient to fight against free radical damage.
Damage caused by oxidative stress
One of the most important factors linked to aging and chronic diseases is the accumulation of oxidative stress. Neurodegenerative diseases, gene mutations and cancers, heart and blood vessel disorders, heart failure, and inflammatory disease have all been linked to oxidative stress. The antioxidant enzymes and compounds in the body are not 100% effective in preventing oxidation of vital cellular constituents, and damage occurs continuously.
How can you protect against oxidative stress?
Choose fresh, organic, whole foods instead of processed foods. Avoid chemicals, preservatives, dyes, and sugars in food, as well as foods that have added oils that may have undergone oxidation and become rancid. (Yes, these are found in many processed pet foods.) Daily exercise and a calm living environment reduce anxiety. Avoid high-stress environments like kennels or noisy, crowded places, if at all possible. Avoid pesticides and chemicals found in flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives, using them only when there is a high-risk situation.
Provide anti-oxidant support with whole foods and supplements. It is impossible to avoid all stress in the polluted world in which we live, which is why our pet's ancestors did not need supplementation. Substances with high antioxidant activity include anthocyanins, beta-carotene, catechins, coenzyme Q10, flavonoids, lipoic acid, lutein, lycopene, selenium and vitamins A, C and E. Cruciferous vegetables like kale, collards, broccoli, and cabbage, along with fresh fruits like blueberries, are naturally high in anti-oxidant power. Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables like carrots, peppers, butternut and acorn squash, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes are naturally high in beta-carotene. Herbs like cinnamon, oregano, ginger, turmeric and rosemary have anti-oxidant properties.
For those than are unable to provide whole food antioxidant support, there are literally thousands of supplements available. CoQ10 and Vitamin C are popular with many pet owners. I have put together a combination of ingredients that help protect against oxidative stress, which I use for all my pets and recommend for my patients.