At the molecular and cellular levels, antioxidants serve to deactivate free radicals, which usually come in the form of O2, the oxygen molecule. Free radicals are the natural byproducts of many processes within and among cells (normal metabolism), and can also be created by exposure to various environmental factors such as sun exposure, cosmic rays, and toxins like lead, mercury, and cadmium from cigarette smoke. Oxidative stress (caused by free radicals) can also result from exposure to pathogens and inappropriate lifestyle factors such as excessive exercise.
Free radicals can cause damage to cell walls, certain cell structures and genetic material within the cells, potentially becoming irreversible and leading to serious disease. This is where antioxidants come into play. Put simply, antioxidants play the housekeeper's role in 'mopping up' free radicals before they get a chance to do harm in the body. They can stabilize and destroy lipid peroxides – damaged fats in your body caused by excess free radicals and the consumption of high-fat food.
We should ideally obtain the antioxidants our bodies require from our diet. However, with soils depleted by years of aggressive farming practices, in addition to today's over-processing of food, it's possible to be nutrient deficient without ever going hungry. That is why many nutritionists recommend supplementing the diet with natural and reliable sources of antioxidants.
Testing relies on the fact that free radicals produce lipid peroxides that can be measured in the urine to indicate antioxidant levels. Comparing these lipid peroxide levels to those of the general population will help to establish a benchmark from which an appropriate program can be developed to improve and maintain your health.
The level of lipid peroxides is an index of cellular membrane damage caused by the action of free radicals. The membranes of the organelles within the cells (mitochondria, lysosomes, peroxisomes etc.) can also be damaged. Membrane proteins, membrane lipids and cholesterol can be damaged due to an insufficiency of antioxidants to deal with the level of oxidative stress. The elevation of lipid peroxides serves as an early warning of the potential long-term effects of oxidative stress, which include chronic degenerative disease.
Direct measurement of lipid peroxides (LPO-CC) correlates 98-99% with serum lipid peroxides.
Oxidative stress appears to play a role. Deficiencies of glutathione and vitamins E and C were found in patients with COPD. Increased lipid peroxidation is also a concern. [Oxidative Stress in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 1997;156: pp.341-57]
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