Written by: Brittani Kolasinski (BHSc – Nutrition, Adv.Dip Nut Med)

We always hear about antioxidants, we know they are good, but you might wonder why? What is their purpose, what’s the point?

Well, let me explain…

Within the body, through normal metabolic reactions that occur like digestion, detoxification respiration, movement and so on, oxidation occurs through a process known as oxidative phosphorylation, and reactive oxygen species are produced.

The activation of the immune system and production of immune cells like macrophages, will also create oxidative species known as reactive nitrogen species.

The production of these reactive species can cause cellular damage. The action of antioxidants, can protect the cells from this damage – this means that they prevent damage to not only the cell structure, but the DNA within the cell, the proteins within the cell and the cell membrane.

DNA damage by reactive oxygen and reactive nitrogen species can lead to chromosome damage and mutations resulting in abnormal cells. This has been linked to the development of malignant cells and progression of cancer. There is a process that occurs within the body by the action of tumour suppressor genes which do just that – supress the formation of tumours in the body, however with a constant onslaught day after day of oxidative DNA damage, without adequate dietary antioxidants, it can lead to the inactivation of the tumour suppressor gene – this has in fact been seen in over 50% of adult carcinomas!

Smoking leads to cancer in a way that it triggers massive DNA damage throughout the body and depletes the body of antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin C.

A good way to prevent DNA damage and cancer growth is to ensure you’re getting more than enough dietary antioxidants day to day. Certain vitamins and minerals provide antioxidant action, these include Vitamin A, E, C, D and minerals zinc, magnesium and selenium.

However, it is important to note that getting your antioxidants should primarily come from wholefood sources, rather than supplementation. Especially if you already have cancer.

For example, supplemental vitamin E prevents DNA damage and oxidation, and promotes cellular repair, which is normally a good thing – BUT, if you have cancer cells present, this means that they too will repair and continue to grow, being detrimental to your health.

Which is why huge generalisations cannot be made when it comes to human health and nutrition and that nutrition and supplementation should always be person-specific. This is where seeing a health practitioner can benefit you greatly to know that you are getting the right nutrients to support you.

Our DNA is the blueprint, which is then translated into RNA which then creates the proteins needed for the functions within the body. The structure of the protein is important – when compromised or damaged by reactive oxygen species it can affect the function of the protein and inactive it.

Oxidative damage also inhibits the body’s ability to remove the damaged proteins, leading to a build-up of damaged protein structures lingering around the body and can form protein aggregates. Protein aggregates have been linked to the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.  

Lastly, reactive oxygen species can also damage the cell membranes. All of our cells contain a cell membrane, these membranes must maintain their fluidity – these reactive species can damage fluidity making them more rigid. There are certain transporters, proteins and receptors embedded within the membrane, making the fluid nature of the membrane important for them to continue to function. With a rigid membrane there are diminished functions of the receptors – which can effect neurotransmitters function and impair cognitive functioning.

Reactive oxygen and reactive nitrogen species are being produced within the body every day as by-products of NORMAL metabolic and immune functions. This means that eating a diet rich in varied antioxidant nutrients is essential. How can we do this? Eat a variety of coloured vegetables, fill your plate with them! Eat seasonally all year round, use different culinary herbs in your cooking or in salads, snack on some fruit, or raw cacao, even squeeze fresh lemon in your water – some simple ways you can massively benefit your health and prevent cancer development, toxin build-up, enhance cognitive function and contribute to healthy aging and longevity!

Yours in health,