Wednesday, 30 March 2011

A dummy's guide to antioxidants

You've got to be careful if you ask me a question about nutrition as you may end up on the receiving end of a mini lecture! That's what happened to a friend this evening when they asked me what antioxidants actually did!

Anyway having debriefed them fully on the subject I figure it is info worth sharing so here it is.

Every time your cells generate energy they burn oxygen and this creates unstable oxygen molecules call 'free radicals'. This is happening constantly in the body as we breathe.

You can also expose yourself to free radicals from your environment through exposure to anything associated with burning/combustion ... petrol fumes, smoking, fried and burnt food (think overcooked barbecue and breakfast fry ups).

These free radicals cause oxidative damage to your cells leading to inflammation, cell ageing, poor cell function and disease such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Antioxidants are chemicals that are capable of neutralising these free radicals preventing this damage. Antioxidant vitamins are also an essential input for proper immune function, so if you are not taking in enough antioxidants for your level of oxidation then you're likely to start catching more coughs and colds.

What isn't commonly known is that you also speed up oxidative damage by exercising as this speeds up the rate at which you have to generate energy, and therefore burn oxygen in the cells. This increased oxidative damage from exercise contributes to muscle fatigue and muscle soreness and so if you exercise regularly or intensively you need more antioxidants in your diet.

Infact this is a common mistake amateur athletes make - as they up their training they increase their calorie and protein intake but don't increase their antioxidant intake in the same proportion. This can lead to increased free radical damage to muscle tissue, poor injury recovery and accelerated ageing as well as reduced resistance to infection.

For example if you're training for a marathon your standard 'five a day" just won't cut it - you should be aiming for at least 8 portions of fresh fruit and veg PLUS extra antioxidant supplements: vitamin C, selenium, zinc, CoQ10 and plant flavonoids such as my beloved Cherry Active.

Antioxidants all work together so it's important to have a range of sources, this means eating a range of different coloured fruit and veg (the different colours represent different plant flavonoids), eating fresh nuts (particularly walnuts as per yesterday's blog) and supplementing with a multivitamin as well as specific antioxidants.

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