Every cell of the body continuously carries out biochemical processes that require oxygen. The overall term for this on-going process is metabolism. By-products of this cellular metabolic process are unstable electrons called oxidants or “free radicals.” Unfortunately, these free radicals are not harmless. Their chief danger comes from the damage they incur upon internal cellular structures such as DNA.
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is a molecule that stores information and is often compared to a set of blueprints or a recipe. Each cell’s DNA contains the instructions needed to construct other components of the cell and/or what each particular cell is supposed to do. When DNA is damaged by free radicals, there is an increased tendency for mutations to occur. Mutations in DNA can then lead to illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, birth defects, etc. Some processes brought about by free radicals are inevitable, such as aging, but others can be prevented. A number of external or environmental factors can also damage DNA such as radiation, environmental pollution, cigarette smoking, and herbicides.
Antioxidants are molecules that prevent these free radicals from harming healthy tissue and are found in fresh foods like vegetables and fruits, particularly in the vitamins found in these foods such as vitamins A, C, E, and beta-carotene. These antioxidant nutrients act as scavengers, helping to prevent cell and tissue damage by binding with the free radicals, thereby decreasing their destructive power. Antioxidants are thought to have a role in slowing the aging process, preventing heart disease, and protecting against the development of cancers.
Regular exercise is always recommended as a lifestyle approach to health and in the case of free radicals, it enhances the antioxidant defense system; however, intense exercise in untrained individuals could do just the opposite by increasing oxidants 10-20 times over the resting state resulting in increased free radical damage. Another reason why the “weekend warrior” may be doing him/herself more harm than good.
An anti-oxidant, aside from vitamins, that is rapidly gaining interest is Coenzyme Q10, also known as Vitamin Q10, CoQ10, or ubiquinone. It is an enzyme that was first identified in 1957 when it was incidentally noted that cancer patients had a deficiency of this enzyme. Naturally, Coenzyme Q10 then became touted as the supplement needed to avoid immune deficiencies and therefore to ward off the onset of cancers.
Levels of Coenzyme Q10 that naturally occur within the body begin to decline sometime in our 30’s. Hence, the interest in replenishing these levels through supplements and food sources. But because Coenzyme Q10 is marketed as a dietary supplement rather than a drug, it is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
For this reason, it has not been rigidly evaluated for safety, effectiveness and dosing regimens. Variations in composition from one manufacturer to another and from one batch to another also cannot be regulated or standardized. Another concern with Coenzyme Q10 is the unknown interaction with prescription medicines.
Since the 1960s, acceptance of vitamins and supplements has come a long way. Regardless of this progress, there is still a lot to be learned and there is still a lot of resistance in some corners of established medical practice.
If you do take an assortment of vitamins, minerals, and/or supplements it behooves you to disclose this to your provider, especially when other remedies or prescriptions are being considered.
• Agnes Oblas is an adult nurse practitioner with a private practice and residence in Ahwatukee Foothills. For questions, or if there is a topic you would like her to address, call (602) 405-6320 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Her website is www.newpathshealth.com.