Of all the things we have to concern ourselves with, preventing “internal rust” is not likely to be on your list. However, it should be as it’s one of the most important things you can do for your health not only to stay looking and feeling younger but to avoid serious disease.
But what do I mean by “internal rust”? When I say this to my patients, they almost always knit their eyebrows and look askance at me, just like you may be doing right now as you read this! Let me explain.
Recently, researchers have found that the human body, on the inside, is a lot like automobiles on the outside! With constant exposure to air and other elements that cause oxidation, cars can develop unsightly rust if not properly cared for. Those rusted parts cause the metal to fall apart and we need a new car. Well, the same is true with the human body. Oh, you don’t develop actual rust that you see on a car, but a similar condition develops in the form of inflammation that degrades body tissue, just like rust degrades metal, and sets the stage for serious disease to set in. This damaging inflammation is caused by a process called free radicals that build up if they are not opposed.
The key to fighting free radicals and associated inflammation is to assure that certain crucial vitamin and mineral elements are present in our diets. These vitamin and mineral components are called antioxidants. They fight free radicals and help prevent disease and aging.
The Best Antioxidants
Antioxidants have been with us for a long time. However, it wasn’t until the last decade that health researchers really understood the importance of specific vitamins, minerals, and chemicals in food that work as agents to keep our bodies from developing inflammation and breaking down. Here are the important jobs that antioxidants do:
- Strengthen the immune system
- Promote healthy cell growth
- Strengthen the heart and cardiovascular system
- Strengthen brain function and sharpen memory
- Aids blood circulation
- Decreases inflammation throughout the body, specifically joints and vascular system
- Improves skin tone and minimizes wrinkles
- Aids in normalizing cholesterol
Let’s look at the most powerful antioxidants available today that you can incorporate into your diet that can rejuvenate you and keep you healthy starting at the cellular level:
Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA): This metabolic antioxidant has been used in Europe for decades to treat/prevent diabetic nerve conditions of numbness and tingling that can accompany the disease. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels, decreases cravings for sugar, and fights insulin resistance. Recently, American doctors have started using it as well to treat their diabetic patients. ALA can also get into brain tissues very well as it is both fat and water soluble. It is thought able to prevent strokes and even treat/prevent Alzheimer disease. It also helps skin look younger and firmer. 100 mg a day taken with meals (prevents heartburn that often occurs with ALA on an empty stomach).
Co-Enzyme Q-10: A very beneficial antioxidant for the heart and energy levels in general. It’s hard to get adequate levels of this enzyme from foods. A good supplement supplies about 60-100 mg a day.
Vitamin A: In its precursor form of beta-carotene, vitamin A contains natural retinol which cosmetic companies include in vying for the best wrinkle cream out there. It also helps protect the lungs and eyes from free radical damage. Some good food sources include carrots, sweet potatoes, liver, and egg yolks. A good supplement should contain about 3,500 mg.
Vitamin B2/riboflavin: Supports a healthy immune system, regulates the production of healthy red blood cells, keeps skin and eyes healthy. Many commercial foods are supplemented with B2, but good food sources are milk, meat, green leafy vegetables, and nuts.
Vitamin C: The research of Linus Pauling decades ago proved this vitamin to have near miraculous properties and sited to even kill viruses. It creates collagen in our skin and helps “knit” together skin, ligaments and tendons, which not only minimizes wrinkles on our faces but keeps our joints and muscles working smoothly. Good food sources of C are all the citrus fruits. Although some people recommend more, I feel at least 1,000 mg a day, is beneficial. Take in divided doses of 500 mg each with meals.
Vitamin D3: Most of us have been aware of Vitamin D from drinking milk, but recently this vitamin has come to the forefront of being a powerful antioxidant as well. Most of us are deficient in this vitamin, especially if we do not spend much time outdoors. 1,000 mg a day is a good level. If you go out in the sun at least 15 minutes a day, you can decrease your dose to once or twice a week.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is an important antioxidant but recently some controversy has surfaced over its health benefits. Previously it was touted as helping prevent heart disease, but some recent researchers disagree with this. I believe if you stick to the alpha tocopherol form of E, you’ll reap the best benefits of E. Food sources are safflower oils, wheat germ, mangos, nuts, or 400 mg supplement form.
Green Tea Extract: Right up there with resveratrol as a powerhouse antioxidant, green tea contains catechin and ECOG, which reams of research have touted as having numerous health benefits, even curing stomach ulcers! Drink a few cups a day, or take green tea extract in pill form.
Lutein: Especially beneficial antioxidant for eyes/vision. Helps prevent macular degeneration and “aging eyes” syndrome. Best sources are leafy dark greens like kale, spinach, collard greens.
Lycopene: A recent addition to the important antioxidant family, in the news lately about helping fight prostate cancer, lycopene comes mostly from tomatoes, but only in their cooked form, such as stewed, or tomato sauces (marinara, etc). It also is present in watermelon, papaya, and apricots.
Resveratrol: An incredible antioxidant present in red wine and dark red and purple grapes has proved itself in research to be an antioxidant, anti-aging, powerhouse. It was discovered when researchers came across what’s now called “the French paradox”. The French people eat high fat diets yet have very low heart disease. They also drink large amounts of red wine so researchers looked at the wine as perhaps a cause of the paradox. They found the chemical resveratrol that prevents oxidation of fat and cholesterol, preventing it from becoming bad plaque in heart vessels, thereby preventing heart disease. It is also thought to be an adjunct to weight loss for the same reason. 100-200 mg a day is recommended.
Selenium: If you live in the Midwest, you’re likely deficient in this important antioxidant mineral because of soil-mineral depletion. Most soils across America are likely to be deficient in this mineral as well and thus so is food grown in it. Selenium helps the thyroid function optimally and breaks down cancer-causing toxins. Brazil nuts, those big gourd-shaped yellowish nuts, have a high amount of selenium in them. Eat a few of these a day and your selenium needs will be taken care of, or supplement with a 200 mcg capsule per day.
In this article, I’ve listed my “superstar” list of antioxidants and how they benefit your health. I feel that the majority of evidence supports antioxidants as being crucial to good health.
However, with today’s lifestyle and mineral depleted soils, it is difficult to eat enough food that contains high levels of these important antioxidants. We would have to consume quite a bit of food per day, every day, to keep these antioxidant levels optimum and this would contribute to our obesity epidemic!
That’s why I think it’s important to eat high vitamin and mineral containing foods at every meal and ensure that we’re getting enough antioxidants either in multivitamins, or supplement form to give us the best chance to live a longer, healthier life!