One of nature’s biggest mysteries is how the same oxygen on which we depend to keep us alive can also be one of the major contributors to our eventual aging and decline. Why?
Our bodies perform like furnaces. Their fuel is the food we eat, and the “heat” they produce is the energy that powers everything we do–even those cellular functions of which we are totally unaware. They use oxygen when converting food into energy, and in the process, some of the oxygen atoms lose an electron, becoming “free radicals”. Atoms with missing electrons are unhappy atoms.
Mother Nature, all the way down to the atomic level, loves a balance, so the first thing a free radical oxygen atom does is look around for its missing electron. If it can’t find the one it lost, it will look next door, at the molecules in the nearest cell. Then it may steal an electron from one of those molecules, fixing itself, but making a free radical of the robbed molecule. And a chain reaction can begin.
Or the free radical may simply “bond” with the neighboring molecule, and share an electron. In doing so, however, it may render the molecule useless for the proper functioning of the cell. If it enough free radicals bond with enough of its molecules, the cell can even die. And if enough cells die, our bodies will start failing. Disease and aging will move in.
Free radicals, in other words, are serious troublemakers.
But our bodies have defenses against free radicals, called anti-oxidants. We produce these anti-oxidants naturally, and while we are young, we produce them in abundance. As time passes, however, the balance in the battle begins to tip in favor of the accumulated free radicals, and may show up as sun-damaged skin, lowered resistance to infection, or even cancer and heart problems.
The answer? Call in the reinforcements by loading your diet with anti-oxidant rich foods. Vitamins A, C, E, and the Vitamin A precursor beta-carotene are the nemeses of free radicals. Where can you find them?
If you want to get the most antioxidant bang for your food bucks, load up on blueberries. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University found that blueberries, of the forty fruits and vegetables they tested for anti-oxidants, “blue” away the competition.
Even the mighty nutritional powerhouses broccoli and spinach looked greener than usual, probably with envy, because the Tufts study showed that one would have to eat two to three servings of either of them to get the antioxidant benefits of a single serving of blueberries.
And blueberries have shown themselves to be equal-opportunity free radical destroyers. Blueberries’ nutrients penetrate the blood/brain barrier, and may both prevent and reverse age-related brain damage.
The compounds which give blueberries their color contain hundreds of nutrients not found elsewhere. The magic is in the blue. And blueberries, low in fat and great cholesterol fighters, are one food you can eat until you’re “blue in the face”!