The Menace of Radicals

We all know that we need oxygen to live. But research has now established an astounding fact. The very thing which promotes life is killing us. Shocked? Relax.. research has now proved that oxidation in the body cells ( the process by which we are continuously burning our calories to get energy) releases dangerous, very active molecules known as free radicals. These damaging fellows attack other (neighborhood) cells, the cells walls, and the genetic material (DNA) within the cells and over a long time period, such damage can become irreversible (like mutation) and cause disease (e.g. cancer). Even if it doesn’t lead to cancer, the old age symptoms (lack of energy, poor memory, loss of hearing, falling hair) are definitely associated with damaged or weak cells. In addition, free radicals contribute to alcohal-induced liver damage, perhaps more than alcohal itself. Radicals in cigarette smoke have been implicated in inactivation of alpha 1 trypsin in the lung, which promotes the development of emphysema and it is now proved that these free radicals are the main culprit. While nature has created this problem, it has provided the solution as well.

What happens in oxidation (burning)?

Burning is quite aptly associated with loss. Things loose their colour, taste or odour when they are burnt. How does an apple retain its fresh red colour even when there’s so much oxygen and sunlight in the nature? It’s the antioxidant. But if it is cut open, it turns brown after a while. That’s oxidation. the presence of every easily oxidisable compounds, called Antioxidants,in the system can “mop up” free radicals before they damage other essential molecules. Therefore, Antioxidants play a key role in these defense mechanisms. An Antioxidants is a chemical that prevents the oxidation of other chemicals. Consuming more antioxidants helps provide the body with tools to neutralise harmful free radicals. It’s estimated that there are more than 4,000 compounds in foods that acts as antioxidants. The most studied include Vitamin C & E, beta-carotene and the mineral selenium. Besides antioxidants, there are several enzyme systems within the body that scavenge free radicals, the principal micronutrient (vitamin) antioxidants are Vitamin E, beta carotene, & Vitamin C. Additionally, selenium, a trace metal that is required for proper function of one of the body’s antioxidant enzyme systems, is sometimes included in this category. The body cannot manufacture these micronutrient so they must be supplied in the diet.

The following vitamins have shown positive antioxidants effects:

Vitamin A or Retinol,or beta-carotene. It has been discovered that beta-carotene protects dark green, yellow and orange vegetables and fruits from solar radiation damage and it is thought that it plays a similar role in human body. Carrots, Squash, Sweet Potatoes, Tomatoes,Peaches and apricots are particularly rich sources of beta-carotene. (NOTE: Vitamin A has no antioxidant properties and can be quite toxic when taken in excess).

Vitamin C: also called Ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin found in all body fluids, so it may be one of our first lines of defense. This powerful antioxidant cannot be stored by the body, so it’s important to get some regularly-not a difficult task if fruits and vegetable are regularly consumed. Important sources include Citrus Fruits (like Oranges, sweet lime,etc.), green peppers, green leafy vegetables, strawberries, raw cabbage, tomatoes and potatoes.

Vitamin E: A fat soluble vitamin that can be stored with fat in the liver and other tissues, vitamin E is promoted for a range of purposes- from delaying aging to healing sunburn. While it’s not a miracle worker, it’s another powerful antioxidant. Important sources include wheat germ, nuts, seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetable, vegetable oil and fish-liver oil.

Beta-Carotene: the most studied of more than 600 different carotenoids that have been discovered, beta-carotene protects dark green, yellow and orange vegetables and fruits from solar radiation damage. It is thought that it plays a similar role in the body. Carrots, Squash, Sweet potatoes, peaches and apricots are particularly rich sources of beta-carotene.

Beta Carotene rich foods

Selenium: This mineral is thought to help fight cell damage by oxygen-derived compounds and thus may help protect against cancer. It is best to get selenium through foods foods, as large doses of the supplement from can be toxic. Good food sources include fish, shellfish,red meat, grains, eggs chicken and garlic. Vegetables can also be a good source if grown in selenium rich soils.

Natural Sources of Antioxidants

The colorful stuff: carrots, apples, oranges, tomatoes (cooked), beetroot, brinjal, dark green vegetables, olives, strawberries, honey (the darker the better) and so on. The tasty stuff: garlic, ginger, onion, nutmeg. The smelly stuff: tea,green tea, spinach, tulsi and other herbs etc. Research says multi vitamin pills may slow the advance of HIV, as it appears to cut the levels of the virus and boost the number of immune cells.

Even though a tomato is rich in antioxidants, most of them can’t be absorbed by humans because they are too complex. Slow cooking brakes them down into simpler compounds that are easily observed. This antioxidant value of a tomato is said to be increase 5 times when it is cooked.

Preventing Cancer and Heart disease – Do Antioxidants help?

Epidemiologic observations shows lower cancer rates in people whose diets are rich in fruits & vegetables. This has led to the theory that these diets contain substances, possibly antioxidants, which protect against the development of cancer. There is currently intense scientific investigation into this topic. thus far, none of the large, well designed studies have shown dietary supplementation with extra antioxidants reduces the risk of development of cancer. in fact one study demonstrated an increased risk of lung cancer in male smokers who took antioxidants vs,. male smokers who did not supplement. Whether this effect was from the antioxidants is unknown but it does raise the issue that antioxidants may be harmful under certain conditions.

Recommendations

Follow a balanced training program that emphasize regular exercise and eat 5 servings of fruits & Vegetables per day. This will ensure that you are developing your inherent antioxidant systems and that your diet is providing the necessary components.

Hangovers

A hangover is the unpleasant feeling that can develop after drinking too much alcohol. A general rule of thumb is that consumption is directly proportional to the hangover, i.e. more booze you consume, more likely you are to experience hangover you are going to feel the following day. But there is no magic formula to tell how much you can safely drink and not have a hangover. Alcohol seems to be the obvious culprit here, rather its diuretic effects are. Congeners are responsible for more intensive hangovers. Congeners are substances other than desired alcohol, ethanol, produced during fermentation. Congeners include a small amount of undesired substances like methanol, acetone, acetaldehyde, esters, and aldehydes. They are responsible for the taste and odor of distilled alcoholic beverages. Whiskey, tequila has a high amount of congeners whereas colorless drinks like vodka, gin rum have low levels of congeners. Bourbon whiskey has an exceptionally high amount of congeners preset while vodka contains almost none. Alcohol contributes to hangovers through following ways-

  • Diuretic- Alcohol is diuretic and therefore makes you pee often, thus getting dehydrated after a drink is highly likely. Dehydration is the reason behind dizziness, headaches.
  • Electrolyte imbalance- ALcohol causes an imbalance of electrolytes in the body due to excess fluid loss causing headaches, irritability, weakness.
  • Hypoglycemia- Alcohol limits the production of glucose production in the body, causing fatigue, dizziness, and irritability.
  • Difficulty sleeping- Although alcohol induces sleeping but hinders high-quality sleep and thus making you drowsier the following day.

These symptoms differ from person to person. Most hangovers go on their own within 24 hours no matter how unpleasant they may seem. But it doesn’t mean you can’t do nothing to alleviate yourself from the post-party symptoms.

  • Eggs- Eggs are a 5-star brunch for some reason. Full of Vitamin B-12 and amino acids like cysteine and taurine. Cysteine helps flush acetaldehyde from the body, one of the congener. While taurin helps bolster your liver keeping you energized.
  • Potassium- Foods rich in potassium help you get energized since potassium is a vulnerable electrolyte when you are getting a booze. Bananas, avocados, dates are rich source of potassium.
  • Carbs- Need instant energy? What’s good than carbs. They raise blood sugar without roiling up your stomach helping relieve hangover.
  • Cereals- Packed with essential nutrients like VitaminsB, calcium, magnesium that help you perk you up.
  • Water- Since alcohol is diuretic, therefore replenishing the water before bed or in the morning can prevent hangover. Take slow sips or nibble an ice cube.
  • Tea- Ginger or Peppermint along with herbal tea could help your stomach to soothe.
  • Soda- Grab a soda as soda breaks down acetaldehyde and other nausea causing byproducts formed after liver metabolizes ethanol.

Unfortunately no scientific cure is present to cure hangover. But some foods might certainly help you mitigate its effects. Also since every person is unique and therefore cures too. Use your intuition and hear your gut.

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