General Description of ANTIOXIDANTS
Antioxidants are molecules that slow down or prevent the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a chemical reaction in which electrons are transferred from a substance to an oxidising agent. Oxidation reactions can produce free radicals, which start chain reactions that damage cells. Antioxidants stop these chain reactions by removing radical intermediates and inhibit other oxidation reactions by being oxidised themselves.
As we age, the number of healthy cells in our bodies decreases. The reserve capacity of cells in each of the body's organs also decreases. This reserve capacity measures how we respond to stress and how well our body supports our health. This is called glucose tolerance and it also shows a loss as the body ages.
The process of ageing is known as oxidative damage. Oxidative damage reflects an imbalance between the systemic manifestation of reactive oxygen species and the ability of a biological system to readily detoxify the reactive intermediates or repair the resulting damage. Antioxidants are the first line of defence against free radical damage.
A good intake of antioxidants is essential if we are to live a long and healthy life. Many studies have shown that the amount of antioxidants we need may be higher than the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs).
How do antioxidants work?
To explain how antioxidants work, think of how the sliced part of an apple turns brown when exposed to air for long enough: This is oxidative damage. If you put a slice of apple in lemon or orange juice, the antioxidant vitamin C slows down the browning or oxidation process. Antioxidants also protect the body's cells and organs from being damaged or destroyed by free radicals. They help support the immune system and increase resistance to stress.
What are free radicals?
Free radicals are highly unstable compounds that can enter the body and cause damage to cells. Free radicals can change a healthy cell and kill it. They can also change a cell into an unhealthy cell. They are also known as oxidising agents.
About Antioxidants and Free Radicals
Our bodies are made up of cells and the integrity of these cells is vital to our health. Substances that damage cell structure or integrity are the cause of poor health. Like everything else in the universe, our cells are made up of molecules, groups of atoms linked together by electrochemical bonds. The outer layers of the atoms, the electrons, are the key players in this bonding process. These layers of electrons seek a state of equilibrium by forming pairs or even groups. When these bonds break, atoms with unpaired electrons are formed, and these unstable atoms are called free radicals.The unstable free radical is always trying to return to a stable form, either by getting rid of its extra electrons or by bonding with another atom to pair electrons. Free radicals tend to "attack" the nearest molecule, trying to steal electrons. If that molecule loses electrons, it becomes a free radical itself, and the whole process starts again. One free radical can start a chain reaction. When this kind of chemical activity occurs in the body, the molecules being attacked are parts of your cells. An excess of free radicals in the body can disrupt cell structure.
The balance between your intake of antioxidants and your exposure to free radicals can literally make the difference in how you feel.
Free radicals can be produced by smoking, exhaust fumes, radiation and frying or barbecuing food. They can also be produced in the body and can alter cell structures. Free radicals are also produced by pesticides and the chemical processing and refining of food.
For example, harmless oil from seeds is turned into a solid fat such as margarine or vegetable fat in a process called hydrogenation. After this process, there is little left of the nutrients in the original food. When we then heat these processed oils, either in solid or liquid form, free radicals called trans fats are created. This is why fried foods are so bad for our health. Free radicals in limited numbers are necessary to help the immune system destroy foreign invaders. It is when they multiply beyond a beneficial level that they cause us harm.
NeutraliSe Free Radicals with Chaga
While it is not easy to avoid free radicals and oxidative damage, free radicals can be managed. Antioxidants 'neutralise' free radicals by donating one of their own electrons, stopping the chain reaction. However, antioxidants have the unique property of being stable molecules even after they've donated an electron, so they don't become free radicals themselves. They act as 'hunters' of free radicals, helping to prevent molecular and cellular damage. Scientific research (e.g. the study by Cui, Kim and Park, 2003, see Chaga Science) confirms that Siberian chaga, with its high concentration of antioxidants, has the ability to "search and destroy" free radicals and protect cells from oxidative stress.
ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. It was developed as an analytical tool for estimating the antioxidant capacity of substances and has become a de facto standard in the natural products industry. As you can see from the table below, wild Siberian Chaga has superior values when compared to high-class medicinal mushrooms and other popular antioxidant juices on the market.
Superoxide dismutase (SOD), or as it is called in the Russian Pharmacopeya a chromogenic complex (a set of chromogens), is one of the most important antioxidants in our body. SOD levels decrease with age. A good diet and exercise keeps the levels up. Chaga has far more SOD than vitamins C, E and super foods such as barley grass, kelp, fish oils, many aromatherapy essential oils. SODs are enzymes that keep our cell membranes supple and healthy.
In the Russian Pharmacopeia, the Chromogenic Complex (melatonin) content is the most important indicator for determining the quality of Chaga mushrooms.