June 29, 2008

AntioxidantsThe term antioxidant refers to a wide-range of substances, including vitamins and minerals, which protect the cells in the body from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that are unstable and try to “steal” electrons, the negative charges in atoms, from other molecules, hence damaging them. It is possible to limit the amount unstable molecules in the body, but it is impossible to eliminate free radicals from the body altogether since some are produced from normal metabolism. Air pollution, car exhaust, smoking and the eating of fried foods are all sources of extra free radicals that damage the body.

Antioxidants that help fight this damage occur naturally in the body and are replenished in part by eating a healthy diet. However, if the body is subjected to additional stress, for example during exercise or from aging, it is difficult to eat enough healthy foods to meet the body’s antioxidant requirements for optimal health and functioning. Supplementing with antioxidants can help give the body the resources to release energy, repair damage and perform better.

Coenzyme Q10, known as CoQ10, is important to basic cell functioning. It is especially critical for efficient energy release from cells for athletes, because it is estimated that 95% of the body’s energy is released with the action of CoQ10. It is produced naturally by the body, however, studies show that levels of CoQ10 drop during aging and are also low in people with other conditions, like heart and muscle problems, for example. Supplementation can be beneficial for a wide-range of people, including those who exercise daily, those taking prescription medications and those suffering from certain chronic diseases. Food sources of CoQ10, such as beef heart, mackerel and herring, are not widely available or consumed, making supplements a useful way to keep optimal CoQ10 levels in the body.

Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is an important antioxidant found naturally in meats and vegetables such as spinach. It has many reported benefits, most notably its role in assisting the body in the manufacture of glutathione, which removes toxins from the liver. Like CoQ10, it also plays a role in the release of energy from the cells, freeing energy for use by the body tissues. It is easily absorbed into the bloodstream and can have positive effects on maintaining optimal blood sugar and cholesterol levels as well as improving muscle strength and brain functioning. Supplementing with between 50-100mg of ALA daily can give added antioxidant protection, helping to repair cell damage caused by environmental factors and extended exercise and muscle use. Side effects are minimal, but over supplementation can lead to an upset stomach. A relaxed feeling of well-being is a positive side effect that often accompanies supplementation.

N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) is naturally synthesized by the body and is important primarily for its role in allowing the body to efficiently generate glutathione. Boosting glutathione levels with N-Acetyl Cysteine allows for greater detoxification. Dangerous heavy metals are removed from the body by NAC, by way of increased glutathione levels, however, it may also remove essential metals from the body and require supplementation of zinc, copper and other trace elements for optimal health. Supplementing with between 250 and 1500 mg of NAC daily has been shown to not only stimulate glutathione production but also break down mucus and protect lung tissue. Endurance athletes see benefits to the immune system strength as well as the reduction of muscle damage valuable. By protecting the muscles from damage, NAC promotes actual muscle growth, leading to an increase in strength among users.

Glutathione (GSH) is a powerful antioxidant that acts as an important detoxifier in the body. It is made in the body from other natural substances such as N-Acetyl Cysteine, whey protein and even from nutrients in watermelon and asparagus. Glutathione works in several ways. It helps the body transport nutrients to immune cells, increasing their ability to function and protect the body. It also strengthens cell membranes. It has been shown to speed recovery from injury and aid in muscle growth and also aids in liver functioning and allows toxins to pass out of the body more easily. GSH has been referred to as “the master antioxidant” because of its ability to control other antioxidants like vitamins C and E and studies show that raising levels in the body can be beneficial to almost everyone. Athletes are particularly prone to muscle stress and find multiple benefits from raised levels of GSH. Studies show that glutathione absorption from the digestive tract after supplementation is low so many recommendations highlight N-Acetyl Cysteine and whey protein as preferable supplements that allow the body to synthesize GSH most effectively. However, glutathione supplements do have an effect too.

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