Oxidation and Glycation: When you leave a banana unpeeled for very long, or bite into an apple and wait, what happens? That brown color begins to appear. This is oxidation. What happens after sugar is heated and melts in a pan, or when vegetables are pan fried? The brown that occurs in these cases is a result of caramelization, which is a chemical change involving internal rearrangement of sugar molecules. The physiological term for this is glycation.
It is a similar chemical change that turns paper yellow over time. Both of these browning and caramelization phenomena occur normally in living systems, and do not require the application of heat, however, the body temperature is conducive to them given the sugars and proteins present. As we metabolize carbohydrates, sugars are formed in the body.
High levels of sugar in the blood cause damaging affects. Aging is a result of our tissues undergoing this browning and caramelization over time. Another residual effect is the brown age pigment, evident in the spots that begin to appear on the skin as we age (usually referred to as 'liver spots').
This age pigment is called lipofuscin and is a mixture of fats, proteins and metals, particularly iron. It is a waste by-product of worn out cells that are not eliminated from the body, but are deposited in places that are not even seen, such as the brain. Most knowledge on the accumulation of lipofuscin are from studies of the eye, where it is suspected to be related to the causes of macular degeneration. Some experts believe that lipofuscin is a result of the interaction between cellular waste and free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules created by oxidation reactions.
People with high sugar levels in their blood, such as diabetics, are prone to more accelerated effects of aging.
Oxidation and Free Radicals
Oxidation is the term used to describe the process and removing electrons from the molecule It strips electrons from other molecules, and can actually damage those molecules, rendering them defenseless or useless. Oxygen is destructive, as is evident in rust. We need it to live, but too much is toxic and corrosive to the body. This is why living systems require defenses against oxidation.
These defense systems have evolved for different purposes over time, such as for protection against solar radiation, which when interacting with water, produces oxygen along with free radicals, the unstable elements that later cause damage to nearby cells. In the effort to stabilize, these free radicals react with nearby molecules, stripping electrons from them. This effectively damages the protection these cells have against the free radicals.
This causes a chain reaction of more unstable molecules causing a domino effect. They stop the chaos only when two radicals react with each other such as to form a stable molecule or when the reaction is too weak to interact with another molecules. In its extreme, this is the mechanism of radiation poisoning. This process damages DNA, proteins, cell membranes and other structures.
During respiration, metabolization of glucose with oxygen occurs, producing water and carbon dioxide. The dangerous molecules created are called reactive oxygen species, or ROS. Two of these are free radicals (the hydroxyl radical and the superoxide radical, the most damaging); the third is hydrogen peroxide. Anti-oxidant defenses protect living things from oxidative stress, which is directly related to the development of age-related diseases.
Importance of Anti-Oxidants
In summary, oxidative stress is simply the total burden placed on the body by the constant production of free radicals over the course of metabolization, in addition to the other environmental stresses such as toxins in food, water and air. Smoke is one of the most concentrated sources of free radicals.
It is obvious that good health has to be a balance of burning the fuel required to create energy, and minimizing the oxidation that occurs as a result. That is to say, balance the oxidative stress with antioxidant defenses. The inability of antioxidant defenses to cope with oxidative stress will cause defects in the DNA, proteins and membranes over time. It can be concluded then, that if antioxidant defenses are strong, life without disease should be possible.
While it is true that antioxidants can be obtained from eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, the sad fact is that given the generations of farming the soil is not as fertile as it once was. While there are hundreds of nutrients in the soil that contribute to the antioxidants and phytonutrients in those plants, only 3 are included in typical fertilizers used to replenish the soil. The result is that fruit and vegetables that are not farmed using organic methods contain only a small fraction of the nutrients that were present in the same fruit just 2-3 generations ago.
This is then coupled with the fact that we simply do not as a rule get enough fresh fruits and vegetables in our diet. Supplementation is a great way to ensure that you continually maintain a healthy antioxidant level in your body, and is especially given the amount of toxins that we are exposed to on a daily basis in this industrialized society in which we live.
Most people find that a convenient liquid delivery system of time released antioxidants is best, given that in our fast paced lives we rarely eat the amount of fruit and vegetables we need. Synaura Avia is a revolutionary whole fruit beverage (see my link in the resource box), made from the recently discovered Maqui berry, containing the highest antioxidant content of any known fruit. Your body will thank you!
Eat Well, Live Well!