In Continuation of my earlier blog, I will try and explain a few of the more important nutrients our body requires, what they do for us, and how we use them. This blog will focus on Antioxidants and Omega Fatty Acids.
Humans consume 11,000 litres of air per day, of which 555 litres are pure oxygen. This oxygen is distributed through the body by being bound to hemoglobin protein contained in our red blood cells. In other words, the oxygen is distributed throughout the body by our blood stream and used by our cells to produce the energy that keeps them (and us) alive.
About 2-2.8% of this oxygen is not fully absorbed, and an unstable residue, with a missing electron forms. This unstable residue is what is known as free radicals. Free radicals are also formed by other means – the food we eat and the environment we live in. Free Radicals want to be stable. To do this they attack anything near them to rob an electron and become whole. Free radicals can cause damage to parts of cells such as proteins, DNA, and cell membranes by stealing their electrons through a process called oxidation. (This is why free radical damage is also called “oxidative damage.”)
Antioxidants, also known as “free radical scavengers,” are compounds that either reduce the formation of free radicals or react with and neutralise them. Antioxidants often work by donating an electron to the free radical before it can oxidise other cell components. Once the electrons of the free radical are paired, the free radical is stabilised and becomes non-toxic to neighbouring cells.
Antioxidants help maintain good health mainly because they help keep free radicals in check. Free radicals are associated with many disease, including cancer, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and others.
“Antioxidants are natural substances whose job is to clean up free radicals. Just like fibre cleans up waste products in the intestines, antioxidants clean up the free radical waste in the cells,” Dr. Lauri Wright, assistant professor of nutrition at the University of South Florida.
Well-known antioxidants include beta-carotene and other carotenoids, lutein, resveratrol, vitamin C, vitamin E, and lycopene, among others. Berries, Chocolate, Kidney Beans, Artichokes, Coriander and Turmeric are some foods that are rich in antioxidants.
Omega Fatty Acids
Nutritionists often call omega fatty acids “essential” fats. The human body needs them for many functions, from building healthy cells to maintaining brain and nerve function. Our bodies can’t produce them. The only source is food.
These polyunsaturated fats are important for another reason. There’s growing evidence that they help lower the risk of heart disease. Some studies suggest these fats may also protect against type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and age-related brain decline.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids are polyunsaturated fats that are considered ‘essential’ fats. Polyunsaturated means that they have several double bonds in the chemical structure.
The three most important types are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). ALA is mainly found in plants, while DHA and EPA are mainly found in animal foods and algae.
Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, play structural roles in the brain and the retina in our eyes. It is important that pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers get enough DHA. It can affect the health and intelligence of unborn babies. Getting enough omega-3 fatty acids can have powerful health benefits for adults as well. This is especially true of EPA and DHA.
Although evidence is mixed, studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can have protective effects against all sorts of diseases. This includes breast cancer, depression, ADHD, as well as various inflammatory diseases.
Omega-3 fatty acids are needed for optimal function of the human body, and they may also provide numerous powerful health benefits. It is also good for our skin and for our hair. Omega-3s come primarily from fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, and tuna, as well as from soybeans, avocados, dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseed in lesser amounts. Omega-3 fatty acids are important, and the modern diet is severely lacking in them. As it is not produced by the body, its only source is through the food we eat.
Like Omega 3, Omega 6 Fatty Acids are also considered ‘essential’ fats. They are necessary for human health, but the body cannot make them. You have to get them through food. Along with omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function, and normal growth and development. As a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), Omega 6 helps stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism, and maintain the reproductive system.
A healthy diet contains a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA), part of the omega-6 family, is essential for good health. The body converts GLA to a hormone-like substance called prostaglandins, which control virtually every organ in the body. These compounds especially affect the heart and circulation, skin, immunity, and inflammation.
GLA, especially evening primrose, is best known for its role in providing nutritional support for women with PMS (premenstrual syndrome). Research also suggests it supports joint and heart health, as well as healthy skin, hair and nails for both men and women.
Flaxseed, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and most nuts are good sources of Omega 6.
As opposed to Omega 3 & 6, Omega 7 is a newly identified monounsaturated fatty acid, known as palmitoleic acid. It addresses many of the underlying factors in metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels — that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
It is often described as an essential ‘non-essential’ fatty acid.
Other than fish, Omega 7 is found in Macadamia nuts.
Omega 9 is a monounsaturated fatty acid known as oleic acid. It is produced by the body, and benefits the heart, brain and supports overall physical and emotional good health. It is also in nuts, avocados and olives.
Hopefully, that was not too difficult to understand. In my next Blog I will cover a few more Nutrients.