Why we should protect our cells

Published: Tuesday | September 25, 2012 Comments 0

LAST WEEK, I wrote about a concept called cellular nutrition and the importance of providing the cells of the body with the right nutrients.

Today, I will expand on that theme and discuss the need to also protect the cells.

The trillions of cells in the human body work very hard. Consider, for example, the human heart. On average, it beats over three billion times in a lifetime, pumping millions of quarts of blood through some 70,000 miles of blood vessels all over the body. The muscle cells of your heart, the cells in your blood, as well as the cells that make the blood vessels themselves, are constantly subject to stress and strain, wear and tear. Little wonder that heart disease, blood disorders and circulation problems are so common.

Or what about your liver, that often undervalued organ? As the major organ of detoxification in the body, on a moment-to-moment basis, it conducts thousands of chemical processes to neutralise harmful substances and then pass them out of the body in the form of bile. The liver cells need protection from damage, just like the cells in all the other organs and tissues.

Free radicals

A major cause of cellular damage comes from free radicals. These are unstable chemicals that, in excess, can harm the cells and promote disease. They are produced by the body itself, as metabolic by-products, similar to how a car engine produces exhaust fumes. Free radicals also come from pollution in the environment, some drugs, cigarette smoke, and even the electromagnetic radiation from appliances and even from the sun itself. Free radicals can damage all parts of the cells, including your genes and DNA. This can lead to cancer. In fact, free radical damage is the underlying cause of most disease processes as well as reason why our bodies age.

There are special substances called antioxidants that defend and protect your cells from being damaged by these free radicals. The cells themselves manufacture antioxidant substances with fancy names like 'catalase' and 'superoxide dismutase'. However, if too many free radicals are produced, or if too little antioxidants are available, disease will result. We all need additional supplies of antioxidants.

A diet rich in antioxidants is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle and fresh fruit and vegetables are the main dietary sources of antioxidants, the more you eat, the better. I call these antioxidants 'The ACES' and they are absolutely necessary for optimal health.

The ACES

A - Vitamin A: This is a powerful antioxidant which helps to protect the cells from cancer and other illnesses. It is commonly found in yellow, green and orange fruits including carrots, pumpkin, callaloo, papaya, mangoes, and also in liver and fish liver oils. The plant sources also contain other substances called carotenoids (e.g. beta carotene), which the body converts to vitamin A.

C - Vitamin C: Man is one of very few animals that cannot manufacture his own vitamin C. This essential antioxidant has to be obtained from the diet. It protects against pollution, cancer and infections and is also necessary for tissue growth and cell repair. Fresh fruits and vegetables, such as citrus, berries and greens are good sources. This vitamin is greatly depleted by alcohol, many prescription medications, and by smoking.

E - Vitamin E: This is yet another powerful antioxidant, which not only protects against cancer, but also improves heart and circulatory function. It promotes healing, reduces blood pressure and prevents abnormal clotting of the blood. Vitamin E is found in cold pressed vegetable oils, dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains.

S - Selenium: This mineral is a vital antioxidant, especially when combined with vitamin E, it protects the immune system from free radicals and inhibits the formation of tumours. Recent research indicates that selenium provides powerful protection from viruses, including the AIDS virus! Selenium, although needed in only small amounts, is important for the proper functioning of the heart, liver, pancreas and prostate. It is found in Brazil nuts, grains, yeast, broccoli, and some meats.

Unfortunately, the modern Western diet is deficient in the ACES and daily supplementation to ensure adequate antioxidant protection is necessary.

Herbal antioxidant

Several herbs also act as powerful antioxidants. Green tea (referred to last week) is full of antioxidant substances called polyphenols, which scientist believe are protective against cancer. The Chinese herb schizandra contains antioxidants called schizandrins, while the well-known Jamaican herb rosemary is endowed with potent antioxidants known as rosemanols. Pycnogenol, obtained from the bark of the French Marine pine tree as well as from the skin and seeds of red grapes, is an antioxidant that is particularly protective of the blood vessels.

Nutritional companies now produce antioxidant supplements that combine vitamins, minerals and herbal antioxidants in convenient tablets, powders and teas. My favourite antioxidant supplements include a combination of the ACES along with the herbs schizandra, and rosemary and pycnogenol.

So, in addition to good cellular nutrition to feed your cells, I recommend additional antioxidant supplements to protect them from damage and to prevent premature ageing.

You may email Dr Tony Vendryes at tonyvendryes@gmail.com or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention' on POWER 106FM on Fridays at 8 p.m. His new book 'An Ounce of Prevention, Especially for Women' is available locally and on the Internet.

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