The terms “oxidation” and “anti-oxidants” have long been used in the health food industry to encourage and sometimes scare the public to purchase supplements that might offer some anti-oxidant protection. Oxygen is an important molecule, one of the sources of life on our planet. However, oxygen is very unstable. In too high of a concentration, it can ignite. When exposed to other molecules, its chemical bond is so powerful that it can rob electrons from almost anything that comes in contact with it — it can cause bare metal to rust (oxidize); it can cause your blood vessel membranes to deteriorate.
Our bodies require the breathing of air, or more specifically – oxygen or O2 in order release energy from our food. The food we consume includes fats, proteins and sugar. Each is composed of complex molecules whose chemical bonds between the atoms store energy. For example, the glucose (sugar) molecule C6H12O6 is made up of carbon (C), hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O) atoms. The bonds that hold these atoms into one molecule represent a large amount of stored energy.
When the O2 we breathe combines with the sugars we have stored in our bodies from food (C6H12O6 + O2 = H2O + CO2 + released energy), the highly oxidative molecule O2 steals electrons from the sugar molecule, thus breaking the chemical bond and releasing the energy our bodies need and converting the remains of the sugar molecule into water (which we sweat or exhale) and carbon dioxide (which we exhale).
If this reaction were quick and smooth, then it would be simple and risk free. However, the breakdown of the sugar and conversion into water and carbon dioxide happens in stages. The glucose molecule is actually composed of these complex chemical bonds:
When these chemical bonds are broken by our digestive process, the (HO–) molecules called hydroxyls are released. These are what are called “free radical compounds” which can be destructive when circulating in your body. These are very unstable molecules which are looking to combine with one additional hydrogen (H) atom in order to form water H2O and thereby stabilize.
The free radicals will steal a (H) anywhere they can find it — from the inner lining of our blood vessels and the protective membranes surrounding our organs, especially our stomach and intestines. Therefore this most basic mechanism of our body, inhaling oxygen to help release the energy stored in our food, can have an oxidative effect on other parts of our body, not involved. Intuitively you could compare this to what would happen if acid molecules were circulating in our body and attacking blood vessels and organs, causing them to break down.
The solution to this oxidative stress is to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables which are naturally anti-oxidants and to take an anti-oxidant supplement such as Grape Seed Extract, Lemon, Pomegranate, Lycopene-15 or Carrot & Garlic. The phytochemical compounds in these fruits and vegetable concentrates can help to protect against the unstable free radical compounds circulating in your body.
This blog today reviewed naturally-occurring oxidative stress that our bodies experience just from breathing and digesting food. Part II of this topic will deal with environmental oxidative compounds that are external to our body.
This sting ray normally hides in the sand, with only its two eyes appearing, studying the fish passing by. Probably after hearing today’s account about anti-oxidants, he will likely bury himself again and hide for a while until this topic disappears.