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Free radicals are not harmless

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Posted: Thursday, June 10, 2010 11:00 am

Every cell in the body continually carries out millions of biochemical processes requiring oxygen. 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 cellular structures or DNA. Anti-oxidants reduce the effects of dangerous oxidants by binding with them, thereby decreasing their destructive power. Food sources of antioxidants include those with high vitamin A, C, E and beta-carotene contents, such as spinach and liver. Anti-oxidants 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 because it enhances the antioxidant defense system; however, intense exercise in untrained individuals could increase oxidants 10 to 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.

One anti-oxidant rapidly gaining interest is Coenzyme Q10, also known as Vitamin Q10, CoQ10 or ubiquinone. It is an enzyme that was first identified in 1957 as an entity to stimulate the immune system (thus, improving resistance to certain infections) and as an antioxidant to protect cells (thus, preventing the cellular damage that may lead to cancer).

In the early ’60s it was incidentally noted that cancer patients had a deficiency of this enzyme. Naturally, Coenzyme Q10 then became touted as the supplement to be ingested to avoid deficiencies and 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 if other remedies or prescriptions are being considered.


Agnes Oblas is a nurse practitioner with a private practice and residence in Ahwatukee Foothills. For questions, or if there is a topic you would like addressed, call her at (602) 405-6320 or e-mail Her Web site is

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