Functional Nutrition for Minimizing Cell Damage

I have been an avid proponent of functional nutrition and exercise for more than 45 years. I was an athlete in high school and did my first Olympic distance triathlon at the age of 22. I am now 63 years old. After more than 350 endurance events ranging from triathlons, to ultramarathons to marathons to rough water swims, I had hip replacement surgery. But that has not deterred me from continuing my nutrition and exercise regimen. In fact, the physical challenges I experience only motivates me to conquer whatever hurdles I might encounter.

Functional nutrition is a โ€œwholeโ€ or holistic approach to health and disease looking at whole body systems and the body as it relates and connects to its whole environment. Many health professionals are proponents of food and supplements being the primary aspects of functional nutrition. This includes whole-food therapies and targeted dietary supplements.

Functional nutrition addresses the underlying causes or roots of disease and utilizes therapies and lifestyle changes to help the body get back into a state of wellness, balance and emotional harmony. Functional nutrition incorporates therapies that support the bodyโ€™s natural healing processes. It supports the healing process, rather than attempting to mask problematic symptoms.

Functional nutrition addresses the fundamental aspects of health which are often ignored, especially when dealing with chronic diseases that affect our quality of life. One area of health that functional nutrition has a significant impact on is in minimizing oxidation and free radical damage.

Oxidation and Free Radical Damage

A fundamental key to functional health is minimizing the damage to cells over time. We all age. Some of us age better than others. Why? Studies have linked oxidative stress to aging. Simply stated, oxidation occurs when the body produces free radicals. The result is something akin to a machine rusting. And when this rusting is applied to humans (and not iron), it results in aging and age-related diseases.

Our bodies normally make free radicals as part of our daily metabolism. They occur as a result of food and environmental pollutions from everyday things, such as air, water and sun. As we age, we become more susceptible to the long-term effects of oxidative stress (or too many free radicals) and inflammation on the cellular level.

The process of oxidation is abundant and can actually help our bodies work properly. But this very same process can also cause us harm. The oxidizing process creates free radicals that are electrically charged molecules. These free radicals interact with cells to create both good and bad results. For example, the immune system uses free radicals to help fight infection. However, when oxidized, LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) can be produced.

Oxidative stress is when the free radicals overwhelm the bodyโ€™s antioxidant defense system causing cell damage. Free radicals have useful functions in the body, but are extremely unstable molecules. If left uncontrolled, they will destroy cells, enzymes and DNA, and ultimately accelerate the aging process. Moreover, free radicals can also contribute to the development of many age-related diseases including arthritis, cancer and heart disease.

Inflammation is caused by free radical damage, and the negative effects of free radicals are due to oxidation. How can this be addressed in a nutritional regimen? Antioxidants play a major role in combatting oxidative stress and can minimize the damage free radicals cause in the body. Some foods are high in antioxidant content. Certain foods contain phytonutrients that many health professionals believe are capable of unlocking the key to longevity.

Phytonutrients are the ultimate in functional nutrition. Plants produce phytonutrients to protect themselves from bacteria and viruses. But they help the human body as well. They are highly nutritious, active compounds within plants that promote good health. Phytonutrients are members of the antioxidant family, and are responsible for ridding the body of free radicals, and, as a result, slowing the rusting, or the aging process. Thatโ€™s one of the reasons why a diet high in antioxidant foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, is your first defense against aging.

Antioxidants to Combat Oxidation

Thankfully, many of our favorite functional foods are packed with high amounts of antioxidants. Researchers have various ways of assessing antioxidant levels in foods. One of the best ways to determine antioxidants in foods is the ferric-reducing ability of plasma (FRAP) test. This test measures foods against specific free radicals and analyzes how they neutralize them. The following are five of my favorite antioxidant-filled foods:

1. Artichoke: Research indicates that this antioxidant may promote healthy blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and liver health.

2. Blueberries: A potent antioxidant that promotes healthy cholesterol and provides benefits for those with diabetes. Research indicates that regular consumption of blueberries for two weeks can result in a 20 percent reduction in cell damage.

3. Dark Chocolate: Contains a type of antioxidant called flavanols, which helps with blood pressure and vision and may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Itโ€™s important to know that in order for chocolate to be deemed โ€œdark,โ€ it must contain 50 percent or more cocoa solids.

4. Pecans: a type of nut that contains magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Pecans also contain protein, carbohydrates and fats, unsaturated fats, to be specific, which can aid in healthy cholesterol levels.

5. Strawberries: This potent antioxidant is rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and other antioxidants. Research suggests strawberries may be beneficial for those with insulin sensitivity and osteoarthritis and may also help protect skin from sun damage.

The good news is that certain supplements are functional in nature and also help people remain active and vibrant as they age leading to an increased quality of life. There are several great antioxidants that are easily found in your local health food store. Three of my favorites are:

1. CoQ10 (ubiquinol): One of those encompassing dietary supplements with both general health benefits (e.g., anti-aging) as well as specific health applications (e.g., cardiovascular health, health blood sugar, etc.). It is a fundamental component in energy production, immune response and protection against damage by free radicals.

CoQ10 is part of the mitochondrial electron transport system and is synthesized in all cells. It is essential to the bodyโ€™s production of energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This holds special importance for the heart, which is loaded with mitochondria and has the bodyโ€™s highest concentration of CoQ10 because of the significant demands made upon it.

However, aging reduces access to CoQ10. Although it can be obtained from the diet (mainly from fatty fish, organ meats and whole grains) as well as synthesized in small amounts, both of these routes decline with age. The bodyโ€™s declining capacity to extract and assimilate CoQ10 in later years plays a role in the development of various cardiovascular conditions.

โ€œUbiquinolโ€ is the reduced form of CoQ10 and the most highly absorbed. It is directly used in human metabolism as a lipid-soluble antioxidant. While standard CoQ10 (ubiquinone) supplements can be converted into ubiquinol in the body, this conversion can be less efficient in some individuals, based on age, genetics, blood sugar status or level of oxidative stress.

2. Glutathione: Often called the โ€œmaster antioxidant,โ€ it is the most potent antioxidant that the human body makes. Through its antioxidant actions, glutathione has been shown to beneficially affect many systems in the body. In the pulmonary system, glutathione can reduce inflammation in the lungs while increasing a substance called surfactant that keeps the airways lubricated and healthy. In the liver, glutathione is required for detoxification, a process that takes toxins and other waste products and makes them water soluble so they may then be excreted into the urine or stool. Glutathione has also been shown to have anti-aging benefits, supports the immune system, and reduce muscle fatigue.

3. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid): The human body cannot make vitamin C and must obtain this antioxidant through the diet. Because vitamin C is water soluble, its antioxidant effects can occur both inside and outside cells. While vitamin C is an incredibly efficacious antioxidant on its own, it has shown to be even more powerful when teamed up with other antioxidants. Vitamin C and glutathione are a powerful match for hydrogen peroxide, a strong free radical. Vitamin C can also facilitate the regeneration of vitamin E.

Functional nutrition options such as antioxidants help to address the underlying causes of disease and utilizes therapies and lifestyle changes to help the body get back into a state of wellness, balance and emotional harmony. Functional nutrition incorporates food and supplements that support the bodyโ€™s natural healing processes. These functional foods and supplements enable the body to do wonderful things and allow for a robust and vibrant lifestyle. The science will continue to evolve and progress on functional nutrition. The future is bright.VR

Mark Becker is a Senior Account Executive for Vivion LLC, a raw materials distributor, based in Gardena, CA. He has worked as a natural products sales and marketing executive for 30 years. Mark has written more than 300 articles and has hosted or been a guest on more than 500 radio shows. He obtained a bachelorโ€™s in journalism from Long Beach State University and did his masterโ€™s work in communications at Cal State Fullerton. For more than 35 years he has participated in numerous endurance events, including more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 103 marathons and numerous other events including ultramarathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland. He has relied on a comprehensive dietary supplement regimen to support his athletic, professional and personal endeavors. For more information, access or

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