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What are Antioxidants? Part 3

In Parts 1 and 2, antioxidants and plant phytochemicals were defined and the process of how they protect our cells from “free radicals” was described. Researchers are discovering more health benefits from these plant substances every year. Some good food sources of common antioxidants and phytochemicals and their importance to our health were presented, such as the vitamins C and E, alpha lipoic acid, the plant phytochemicals carotenoids, flavonoids, soy isoflavones, catechins, and the mineral selenium.
Here in Part 3, food sources rich in antioxidants with potent anti-inflammatory properties are presented.

Antioxidants with Potent Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Inflammation is a natural bazinga reaction to injury or infection. It is a crucial aspect of the body’s healing mechanism. Short-term inflammation can help the body heal from these injuries or infections, but if it persists too long or is in an area where it is not needed, it becomes chronic, prolonged, abnormal, or misplaced inflammation. It may result from food sensitivities that cause allergic-inflammatory responses or from a deficiency in essential fats and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Current medical views hold that this chronic inflammation may be the underlying cause of age-related diseases, such as heart disease and arthritis.

The discovery that certain natural substances produce marked anti-inflammatory effects on systemic inflammation has helped in the management of pain relief for some of these diseases. Recent studies have highlighted the anti-inflammatory benefits of some common foods: flaxseeds, ginger, and turmeric.

Flaxseeds: Flaxseeds are a rich source of omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid. Because our bodies are unable to produce omega-3 fatty acids, we must get them through our diet. Essential fatty acids protect us from the effects of high blood pressure, sticky platelets, inflammation, water retention, and lowered immune function. Numerous studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids help lower cholesterol and prevent clotted arteries that may result in strokes, heart attacks, and thromboses. Scientists also think that omega-3 fatty acids have a beneficial role in other disease prevention, including hypertension, cancer, and inflammatory and immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. Flaxseeds also contain lignans, which are phytochemicals known as phytoestrogens, compounds that have some estrogenic activity that may be helpful for post-menopausal women. Lignans also have antiviral, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties, but their anticancer effects have received the most research attention lately.

Ginger: Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is known as a digestive aid and is a rhizome that contains enzymes and antioxidants. Ginger improves the digestion of proteins, is an effective treatment for nausea and motion sickness (for example, ginger ale), and strengthens the lining of the stomach. The polyphenols known as gingerols in fresh ginger have anti-inflammatory benefits and anticancer effects. When ginger is dried, its phytochemicals change to the more potent shogaols. These polyphenols have more powerful anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. It is available as a fresh herb, in tablet, capsule, powdered, and liquid forms.

Turmeric: Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a member of the ginger family and is also a rhizome. It is best known as a spice in Indian curry. The volatile oil found in turmeric has shown significant anti-inflammatory activity in a variety of experiments. Its effective anti-inflammatory properties have made it a favorite among arthritis sufferers. Even more potent than its volatile oil is the yellow or orange pigment of turmeric, which is called curcumin. Curcumin is turmeric’s active ingredient and is thought to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric can be incorporated into the diet as a way to promote health. Used as a culinary spice, it can be eaten regularly and liberally. As a powder, it can be prepared as a tea. Curcumin is also available in tablets and capsules.

Copyright 2006 Mary El-Baz. All rights reserved.

Mary El-Baz, PhD is the author of Building a Healthy Lifestyle: A Simple Nutrition and Fitness Approach and Easy and Healthful Mediterranean Cooking, an invaluable nutritional program for anyone to build a healthy lifestyle and a collection of savory, nutritious Mediterranean recipes. Dr. El-Baz holds a doctorate in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health and degrees from the University of Missouri.

Look for her books on http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/results.asp?WRD=Mary+El%2DBaz&z=y&cds2Pid=9481 and other fine online booksellers. A forthcoming book that builds on the Building a Healthy Lifestyle foundation, Transform Your Core 6-Week Workbook, a six-week weight loss plan to rev up your fat-burning metabolism and build lean muscle to transform your midsection from fat and flabby to slim and trim, will be available just in time for your New YearÂ’s resolution!

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