Antioxidants have taken a beating lately. Millions of people ingest antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamins C and E, in the hope that these nutrients will protect against disease onset, and perhaps even offer some life extension benefits. The antioxidant era began back in 1957 when scientist Denham Harman. Harman, who was the director of cardiovascular research at the University of Nebraska, formulated his Free Radical Theory of Aging that year. The Free Radical Theory of aging stated that free radicals, which are byproducts of oxygen metabolism and are constantly being produced in the human body, attack cellular membranes, especially the fatty portions, and in doing so compromise cellular integrity. The cellular membrane is the gatekeeper of cells, and when it breaks down due to the oxidizing effects of free radicals, the cell is now open to invasion by a large variety of noxious substances. These substances include carcinogens that can damage cell DNA, resulting in cell mutations that are the initial cause of cancer. Damage to the cell also promotes cellular death and aging. Free radicals are just unpaired electrons. Electrons come in pairs, and the only objective of a free radical is to combine with paired electrons, which interferes with their activity.
This process of pairing with stable electrons by free radicals is an oxidation process. If there were no recourse to this constant oxidation induced by free radicals, no life would be possible. But it turns out there are two basic antidotes to free radical attacks. One is the endogenous antioxidant system, consisting of various enzymes with the ability to neutralize free radicals, often by contributing an electron that stabilizes the wild free radical. The built-in antioxidant enzymes of the body include catalase, superoxide dismutase, and perhaps the most interesting of all, glutathione. The other option to protect against the noxious effects of free radicals comes in the form of various dietary antioxidants, such as vitamins E, C, A, and various minerals. Indeed, minerals are required to activate the endogenous antioxidant enzymes,such as how zinc and manganese are required for the full expression of superoxide dismutase enzymes.
While the endogenous antioxidant enzymes offer protection, with age, the production of these enzymes tends to take a downturn. Some scientists think that it's the loss of these enzymes that opens the door to a number of diseases that often show up with age. These include various degenerative brain diseases, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, both of which show increased oxidative damage activity. Cardiovascular disease also has an oxidation component. Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol or LDL is the primary carrier of cholesterol in the blood. Among other things, it carries cholesterol to the Leydig cells of the testes, where the cholesterol is converted into testosterone in a number of enzymatic transformations. LDL is not dangerous unless . . .