Oxidation is a process where a free radical molecule is created when there is the loss of at least one electron when two or more atoms or molecular compounds interact.
Here is what a free radical molecule looks like:
Sometimes oxidation is not such a bad thing, as in the formation of super-durable anodized aluminum. Other times, oxidation can be destructive, such as the rusting of an automobile, the spoiling of fresh fruit or the damage to the cells in our body.
Examples of oxidation include a freshly-cut apple turning brown, a bicycle fender becomes rusty and LDL cholesterol in the arteries is oxidized due to excess glycation.
Free radicals created from oxidation can cause damage our DNA, which may lead to a cell mutation and trigger the development of diseases such as cancer.
Free radicals also cause damage to other cells and tissues in the body, which may lead to other diseases such as atherosclerosis, heart disease, and arthritis.
When free radicals increase significantly, this can cause oxidative stress. Oxidative stress (chronic oxidation) is an imbalance between oxidants and antioxidants in favor of the oxidants, potentially leading to cell/tissue damage.
Ongoing oxidative stress is dangerous because, over time, it can lead to accelerated aging, cancer, heart disease (atherosclerosis), Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's, autoimmune diseases, Type 2 diabetes, and other systemic diseases.
For more information about oxidative stress and how it develops, refer to the Inflammation & Oxidation web page.
Given that oxidation can be harmful to our cells and tissues, it becomes important to use antioxidants to reduce the damage caused by oxidation and help with reversing Type 2 diabetes.
Antioxidants are electron donors, which can break the free radical chain reaction by sacrificing their own electrons to feed free radicals, but without turning into free radicals themselves.
Antioxidants are nature's way of providing your cells with adequate defense against attack by free radicals known as reactive oxygen species (ROS). As long as you have these important micronutrients, your body will be able to resist accelerated aging caused by your everyday exposure to pollutants.
If you don't have an adequate supply of antioxidants to help squelch free radicals, then you can be at risk of oxidative stress, which leads to accelerated tissue, organ damage and disease.
Numerous studies have confirmed the benefits of antioxidants and the role they play in maintaining good health and reducing your risk of heart disease, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and cancer.
Antioxidants also help slow down the aging process, which can have immense effects on your skin health.
Key Point: Since excess oxidation is a major problem with Type 2 diabetes (and other diseases), eating antioxidant-rich foods will help to reduce the oxidative damage. In addition, eating antioxidant-rich (and anti-inflammatory foods) will help to prevent diabetic complications and possibly reverse your diabetes.
Other important benefits of antioxidants include:
Repairing damaged molecules – Some antioxidants, such as glutathione and Vitamin C, can repair damaged molecules by donating a hydrogen atom. This is very important when the molecule is a critical one, like your DNA.
Blocking metal radical production – Some antioxidants have a chelating effect – they can grab toxic metals like mercury and arsenic, which can cause free radical formation, and "hug" them so strongly to prevent any chemical reaction from taking place. Water-soluble chelating agents can also escort toxic metals out of your body through your urine.
Stimulating gene expression and endogenous antioxidant production – Some antioxidants, such as Vitamin D, can stimulate your body's genes and increase your natural defenses.
Providing a "shield effect" – Antioxidants, such as flavonoids, can act as a virtual shield by attaching to your DNA to protect it from free radicals attacks.
Promoting cancer cells to "commit suicide" – Antioxidants, such as allyl sulfides, can provide anti-cancer chemicals that halt cancer growth and force some cancer cells to self-destruct (apoptosis).
BIG MISTAKE!: Some experts believe that taking megadoses of antioxidant (pills) will reduce chronic oxidation and help to maintain optimal health. Infact, some antioxidant supplements may cause more harm than good. Instead, you should obtain your antioxidants mostly from food to optimize its benefits to maintain optimum well-being.
Major Classes of Antioxidants
Antioxidants reduce the damaging effects of free radicals by binding together with these harmful molecules, decreasing their destructive power. Antioxidants can also help repair damage already sustained by cells.
There are three major classes of antioxidants
- Enzyme: Antioxidants produced within the body, e.g. glutathione
- Micronutrient: Antioxidants found in food, e.g. vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, zinc
- Phytonutrient/Phytochemical: Antioxidants found in food, e.g. flavonoids such as querecetin, resveratrol, anthocyanidins.
The most commonly recognized enzymatic antioxidants produced in the body are Superoxide Dismutase, (SOD) Catalase, and Glutathione.
- SOD changes the structure of oxidants and breaks them down into hydrogen peroxide.
- Catalase, in turn, breaks down hydrogen peroxide into water and tiny oxygen particles or gasses.
- Glutathione is a detoxifying agent, which binds with different toxins to change their form so that they are able to leave the body as waste.
In order for these enzymatic antioxidants to provide optimum antioxidant activity, they require co-factors such as iron, copper, selenium, magnesium, and zinc. The quality of the protein source does have an impact on the quality of the antioxidant enzymes.
These enzymatic antioxidants (which cannot be found in supplements) benefit you by breaking down and removing free radicals. They can flush out dangerous oxidative products by converting them into hydrogen peroxide, then into water.
This is done through a multi-step process that requires a number of trace metal cofactors, such as zinc, copper, manganese, and iron.
Non-enzymatic antioxidants benefit you by interrupting free radical chain reactions. The key types of micronutrient antioxidants include:
- Vitamins, e.g. Vitamin A, C, E, in vegetables, fruits, plant oils, nuts, seeds,
- Minerals, e.g. Minerals in food: copper, zinc, selenium
Most antioxidants found in food (and supplements) are non-enzymatic, and they provide support to enzymatic antioxidants by doing a "first sweep" and disarming the free radicals. This helps prevent your enzymatic antioxidants from being depleted.
These other antioxidant agents are found in foods, such as dark green leafy vegetables and bright-colored vegetables and fruits.
These antioxidant foods are high in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene.
Food examples include spinach, kale, orange and red peppers, tomatoes, red beans, blueberries, carrots, and wild salmon.
Wild salmon contain three powerful antioxidants, which scavenge for the destructive free radicals that inflict oxidative damage on the cells of your body and brain: astaxanthin, Vitamin E, selenium.
Antioxidants are believed to help prevent and repair oxidative stress, a process that damages cells within the body and has been linked to the development of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes.
The major types of phytonutrients and phytochemicals that are found in bright-colored vegetables, fruits, herbs and other colorful edible plants and perform as antioxidants include:
- Carotenoids, e.g. alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, cryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein, zeaxathin in plants, vegetables, fruits; astaxanthin in microalgae, wild salmon, lobsters and crabs.
- Polyphenols/Flavonoids, e.g. flavonols, quercetin, resveratrol, kaempferol, catechins, anthocyanidins found in vegetables, fruits, beans
- Glucosinolates, e.g. isothiocyanates, sinalbin, goitrin found in Brassica/cruciferous vegetables
- Phytoestrogens, e.g. Isoflavones (daidzein, genistein, and glycitein), Lignans, Coumestans, found in soybeans, flaxseeds, soybeans
- Allyl sulfides, sulfur compoundsfound in garlic, onions, and shallots
Specific examples of antioxidant phytochemicals include:
Allyl sulfides (garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, chives, scallions) have various anti-carcinogen functions.
Anthocyanins (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, grapes, cherries, red peppers, eggplant, red cabbage) offer antioxidant cell protection and may help prevent binding of carcinogens to DNA.
Catechins (green tea, berries) are antioxidants linked to lower rates of gastrointestinal cancer.
D-limonene (citrus fruits) may detoxify cancer promoters.
Flavonoids (in parsley, carrots, citrus fruits, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, soybeans, berries) block receptor sites for hormones that promote cancer.
Indoles (cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale) stimulate production of enzymes that break down cancer causing agents.
Isoflavones in soybeans and other legumes, i.e. Genistein, Daidzein
Lycopene (cooked tomato products, watermelon, pink grapefruit) is a class of carotenoids that's protective against prostate and possibly other cancers.
Monoterpenes (parsley, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, peppers, mint, basil, citrus fruits) aid protective enzyme activity
Phenolic acids (parsley, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, citrus fruits, whole grains, berries) have antioxidant properties and inhibit nitrosamine formation and help form protective enzymes.
Additional examples of antioxidants include: alpha lipoic acid, CoQ10, ellagic acid, l-carnosine, n-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes (OPCs), melatonin.
Key Point: Most antioxidant supplements (pills) are synthetic and may cause more harm than good. Consequently, always try to find your antioxidants via food sources.
The major categories of antioxidant-rich foods include the following:
- Fruits: Apples, berries (Cherry, blackberry, strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, blueberry, bilberry (wild blueberry), black currant, pomegranate, Goji berry, grape, orange, plum, pineapple, kiwi fruit, grapefruit.
- Vegetables: Cruciferous vegetables, dark green vegetables, kale, chili pepper, red cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, parsley, artichoke, Brussels sprouts, spinach, lemon, ginger, red beets, onion, sweet potatoes.
- Beans/Legumes: Kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans.
- Dry Fruits: Apricots, prunes, dates.
- Nuts and seeds: Pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, ground nut or peanuts, sunflower seeds.
- Cold-water fish: Wild salmon, sardines (Omega-3 EFAs)
- Plant oils: Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil
- Spices: cloves, cinnamon, oregano
- Herbs: gingko biloba, garlic, ginger, sage; green tea
- Whole/cracked organic grains: Barley, quinoa, amaranth, millet, oats (but, most diabetics should avoid the majority of grains and cereals)
- Raw Juice Beverages: Green vegetable juice, Carrot juice, Wheatgrass juice, Açaí Berry juice, Pomegranate juice, Blueberry juice, Cranberry juice, Black cherry juice, Apple juice; Green tea. But, avoid all bottled juices -- they're pasteurized and full of sugar!
Note: Most of these antioxidant-rich foods happen to also be anti-inflammatory-rich foods that help to reduce and prevent chronic inflammation.
Refer to the Anti-inflammatory Foods web page for the following list of antioxidant foods and nutrients, and how they can benefit your health, including reversing your diabetes.
- Acai Berries
- Alpha Lipoic Acid
- Black Beans
- Coffee, Black (organic roasted/brewed coffee beans)
- CoQ10 (Ubiquinone)
- Dark chocolate
- Ginkgo Biloba
- Goji Berry
- Green Tea
- Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins (Pycnogenol)
- Olive Leaf
- Omega-3 EFAs
- Pycnogenol (Grapeseed, Pine Bark)
- Raw juices
- Red Beans
- Selenium (Se)
- Superoxide Dismutase (SOD)
- Sweet Potatoes
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
Surprise!: Although coffee may raise your blood sugar, it contains a high level of antioxidants -- as long as you use organic coffee beans and avoid the additives such as milk, cream, sugar, and artificial sweetener.
Note: For more information about antioxidants, food sources, and nutritional supplements, we recommend that you get the Nutritional Supplements and Super Foods ebook.
Be proactive and prevent the onset of diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems by getting one or more of the following author's books, which address inflammation, oxidation, toxic load, etc.:
Disclaimer: This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
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