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During normal metabolic functions, highly reactive compounds called free radicals are created in the body. However, free radicals may also be introduced from the environment. These compounds are inherently unstable since they have an odd number of electrons. To make up for their shortage in electrons, these free radicals will react with certain chemicals in the body, and in so doing, they interfere with the cell’s ability to function normally.
But just as the body naturally produces free radicals, it also has a means to defend against its harmful effects. Antioxidant enzymes are chemical substances found in plants that act on free radicals. Antioxidant enzymes work in several ways. For one, they may reduce the energy of the free radical or give up some of their electrons for its use, thereby causing it to become stable. Antioxidant enzymes may also stop the free radical from forming in the first place. In addition, they may also interrupt an oxidizing chain reaction to minimize the damage caused by free radicals. In sum, the main function of antioxidant enzymes is neutralizing free radicals.
For the past decade, countless studies have been devoted to the beneficial effects of antioxidant enzymes. It has been found that a substantial link exists between free radicals and more than sixty different health conditions, including the aging process, cancer, and atherosclerosis. By reducing exposure to free radicals and increasing the intake of antioxidant enzyme rich foods or antioxidant enzyme supplements, your body’s potential to reducing the risk of free radical-related health problems is made more palpable.
The human body produces several types of antioxidant enzymes. The antioxidant enzymes include superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, and glutathione peroxidase. These antioxidant enzymes neutralize many types of disease-causing free radicals, ridding the body of their harmful effects.
Supplements of these antioxidant enzymes are also available. Usually they are for oral administration in the form of pills or capsules. However, the absorption of antioxidant enzymes in supplement form is minimal at best. A better way would be to supplement the body with the “building blocks” required in order for our body to manufacture its own SOD, catalase, glutathione peroxidase, and other such antioxidant enzymes. The building block nutrients of antioxidant enzymes include the minerals manganese, zinc, and copper for SOD and selenium for glutathione peroxidase.
In addition to antioxidant enzymes, many vitamins and minerals may also have antioxidant properties. These include vitamins C, E, A (beta-carotene) and nutrients such as lutein, lycopene, vitamin B2, coenzyme Q10, and cysteine (an amino acid). Herbs, such as bilberry, turmeric (curcumin), grape seed or pine bark extracts, and ginkgo can also provide powerful antioxidant protection for the body.