Free Radicals and Antioxidants
Our bodies are composed of billions of molecular cells held together by electronic bonds. When a bond breaks it becomes an unstable molecule with an unpaired electron and is then known as a free radical. Some free radicals occur naturally in our bodies as a part of metabolism, but there are a number of environmental factors that can cause an excess of free radicals: pollution, poor diet, radiation, X-rays, cigarette smoke and herbicides along with stress, lack of exercise and lack of sleep. These free radicals want to replace their missing electron, so they attack healthy cells. When the attacked molecule loses its electron, it becomes a free radical itself seeking another healthy cell to attack and steal an electron from, and this process keeps repeating itself until the energy of the free radical is spent, or the reaction is stopped by an antioxidant.
This destructive scenario leads to oxidative stress and can damage important molecules like DNA. Oxidative stress is associated with arthritis, premature aging, edema and leg swelling, artery hardening and susceptibility to cancer. We see oxidation damage when we see rust on metal or an apple that's been cut and quickly turns brown. This is what happens in our bodies. Oxidation destroys healthy cells.
Lester Packer, Ph.D., wrote in The Antioxidant Miracle, "Scientists now believe that free radicals are causal factors in nearly every known disease, from heart disease to arthritis, to cancer and cataracts. In fact, free radicals are a major culprit in the aging process itself."
Dr. Richard Cutter, former Director of the National Institute of Aging notes that "the amount of antioxidants in your body is directly proportional to how long you will live."
What Can We Do to Protect Ourselves?
We look for ways to provide antioxidants. Antioxidants aggressively donate electrons to the free radicals without becoming a free radical themselves, or they remove the extra electron to stabilize it. Although the antioxidant donates an electron, because of its structure, it is many times less reactive than the free radical and will not damage other molecules. Other processes in the body complete the process, and the free radical is ushered out of the body.
Scientists developed a test to measure the ability of an antioxidant to "pacify" free radicals in our bodies. This test is called the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity Test (ORAC). Fruits and vegetables supply antioxidants that help our system stay in balance, but balance is getting harder and harder to come by.
Much of the food available today is grown with genetically modified seeds, grown in nutrient-deficient soils, sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, harvested immature and treated to increase shelf life and so on. Many people eat processed foods with little nutrient value. We assault our bodies with carbonated soda, sugars, artificial colors and sweeteners and have more stress in our lives than possibly any previous generation. Many spend much of their lives indoors in rooms with computers, wireless devices, eating processed GMO foods off of plastic plates and drinking soda from aluminum cans. Then when dis-ease appears, these people seek medications to alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms of a body screaming for help. Many pharmaceuticals compound the problems when they turn down or turn off the screaming symptoms without eliminating the root of the problem. Medications further poison the body with more toxins to deal with.
The activity in your body is like a bustling city crowded with people. Most of the people are kind, hard working, honest people, but some are criminals seeking to do harm. The police in this city help maintain order and seek to find and capture the criminal, free radical attackers and other things that attempt to do harm to its citizens. When an offending free radical has an encounter with the law, he gets reeducated by the antioxidant police and is promptly escorted out of the city. Law abiding and helpful free radicals are allowed to stay.
(Note: Not all free radicals are destructive. Though they are radical, some are beneficial and even essential for our health. They play a role in breathing, are important to our immune system, are partly responsible for killing bacteria and other body invaders and help start the inflammatory process that helps repair an injury. The key is to have them in balance and not to add more due to poor eating habits, drugs and environmental toxins.)
Benefits of Antioxidants
Antioxidants help boost your health and keep your free radicals under control. Some of the most potent sources are found in high quality, fresh, organically grown and processed vegetables and fruits. These plants produce natural, high levels of antioxidant compounds called polyphenol flavonoids, which can support your health in different ways:
- Boost your immune system
- Enhance your memory and concentration
- Help your antioxidants promote the effectiveness of Vitamin C
- Control nitric oxide, a potent free radical that regulates your blood flow
- Strengthen your heart
Where Do I Find Antioxidants?
Eating a diversity of quality (preferably non-GMO and grown without pesticides) fresh fruits and vegetables provides us with the antioxidants we need to deal with free radicals, but when our exposure to environmental toxins and/or stress calls for extra troops, numerous essential oils are many times more concentrated than fresh produce.
For example, 2 drops of Clove essential oil taken orally is said to have the antioxidant power of:
5 lbs. carrots
1.5 lbs. beets
1.3 cups blueberries
Our bodies were designed to get our antioxidants from fresh produce that we grow ourselves. We need the exercise, the sunshine, the soil on our hands, and we should be nourished by food we grow in season. However, many of our lifestyles are no longer connected to the gardening tradition of our ancestors. Couple that with the onslaught of our toxic environment, pesticides and so on, and we find that sometimes we need a boost. Essential oils are unsurpassed in their ability to remove free radicals from our bodies and provide the boost we may need. According to the Essential Oil Desk Reference, Clove, Thyme, Orange and Frankincense combine the highest antioxidant oil, Clove, with DNA-protecting essential oils. We call this blend Endurance.
|Comparison of Antioxidant Capacities by ORAC Scores|
|Fruits and Vegetables||Essential Oils|
|Yellow Corn||400||Cinnamon Bark||10,340|
|Red Bell Peppers||710||Hyssop||20,900|
Although essential oils provide far more antioxidant percentages than fresh fruit and vegetables, I would not consider them a replacement for a wholesome diet, but I do feel that they are the Lord's provision when we need extra support. Thankfully, there are numerous benefits to using essential oils daily without negative side effects.
I wish you a beautiful, healthy spring!
Comparison of Antioxidant Capacities by ORAC Scores chart excerpted from the Essential Oils Desk Reference, Third Edition, Brian Manwaring, Editor, 2004 Essential Science Publishing Co., Orem, Utah, pp. 437-438.
David Stewart, Ph.D., D.N.M, "The Chemistry of Essential Oils Made Simple," Care Publications, pages 471-473.
Antioxidant and free radical scavenging activities of essential oils.
Antioxidant properties of the essential oil of Eugenia caryophyllata and its antifungal activity against a large number of clinical Candida species.
Assessment of Antioxidative, Chelating, and DNA-Protective Effects of Selected Essential Oil Components (Eugenol, Carvacrol, Thymol, Borneol, Eucalyptol) of Plants and Intact Rosmarinus officinalis Oil.