Not All Oxidants are Bad
Learning Center | Oxidation | Feb 2, 2017
That’s not something you’ll hear very often. Google “oxidants + good” and you’ll find most links lead to a pro-antioxidant article and ads for supplements will populate the page. Which is fine, antioxidants are good for you.
At least most of them. In moderation. If they are the right kind.
Confused? Let us explain.
How’d we get here?The mainstream and traditional view of oxidation (at least within medicine) goes back to 1956 when British scholar Denham Harman published his Free Radical Theory of Aging. The gist of his theory was that at the root of aging was the tissue damage and disease cause by free radicals. It then followed that in order to slow aging and disease, all that was needed was an increase in antioxidant consumption. Simply overwhelm the bad with the good and all would be fixed.
But it didn’t work that way. Studies and experiments which attempted to confirm this solution didn’t always pan out, particularly if there was only one 1 antioxidant used and especially if it was in-vitro. This has resulted in antioxidants being seen either negatively or at a minimum ignored by many in traditional medicine.
Because the solution didn’t work, serious doubt was then applied to the problem or cause as well. Which isn’t exactly logical, or even good science. Fortunately, since the early 1990s, the concept known as oxidative stress has gained significant credibility as confirmation of oxidative damage has been proven over and over. It’s now difficult to find someone who doesn’t believe free radicals harm our overall health.
The confusion and push-back comes in how to fight those radicals.
Redox Balance SystemWithin the last few years, it’s become more apparent that our bodies balance oxidants and antioxidants. They function together, almost like a network where one supports the other. Think of it as yin-yang. In order to have oxidants, you have to have reducers. The oxidants take the electrons that the reducers give.
Too much of one will force the other side out of balance. Very much like the way our body balances it’s pH levels.
If you’ve read the article on antioxidants, then you’ll remember there are 2 kinds of antioxidants. Those we consume from outside sources and those made internally. The body actually needs the oxidants to act like a trigger and force the creation of those internal reducers.
Then to close that loop and rebalance the system, some of those internal reducers are the only antioxidants that work to negate the advance of harmful oxidants. We need something that has been categorized as “bad” to create something “good” in order to stop another “bad”. If that doesn’t happen, then it doesn’t matter how much we flood the body with external antioxidants, we don’t see the improvement.
Which is why those experiments mentioned above didn’t work as hoped. Adding antioxidants into a test tube of radicals waiting for them to do their thing never happened because they were the wrong antioxidants.
What else do oxidants do?The percentage of oxidants that are harmful is actually a fairly small percentage compared to the total overall amount in our bodies at any given time. The majority of oxidants fall into 2 categories.
The first are called signal molecule. Things like nitric oxide and hydrogen peroxide. They are only harmful in very, very high concentrations or if they get converted into the harmful variety. When functioning correctly, they tell other cells how to operate. Do they need to up their immunity reaction? Like inflammation or a fever to fight infection. Or maybe they need to start repairing and rebuilding tissue. Maybe they just need to stay in homeostasis and not change anything.
Without being told what to do, the cells won’t perform correctly. From an oxidation perspective, if this process is interfered with by too many antioxidants, long term harm can result.
The second category aren’t signal molecules, but they aren’t harmful either. If fact, the verdict is still out on what exactly they are doing. Which if we don’t know, we probably don’t want to mess with either. So again, let’s not over do it with reducers that might impact whatever function they are performing.
Final thoughtsThere are two important takeaways.
First, stay in balance. Don’t ignore antioxidants, but don’t look at them as a miracle we can overdose on to fix all of our problems. For most of us, that means eat a well-rounded, nutrient rich, whole food diet. If we are doing that, we probably don’t need a bunch of vitamin C pills.
Secondly, and this is a question you might already have thought of, is there a way you can selectively target the harmful oxidants while leaving the good ones alone.
Well yes, yes there is. Which is one of the factors that make our water so beneficial. It does exactly that. We’ll explain how in a future post.