The Healing Power of Fruits
Fruits are an essential part of a healthy diet. We associate fruits with sweet, edible flesh and colorful juices. They are high in fiber, water, vitamins and minerals. But their phytochemical content has been the topic of much research.
Phytochemicals are the colorful compounds that give fruits their hues. They are powerful natural compounds. For example, the phytochemical ephedrine is used in pharmaceutical cough and respiratory preparations. Phytochemicals are divided into several major groups:
Polyphenol refers to phytochemical antioxidant compounds containing multiple rings. They are able to stabilize chemical reactions caused by harmful free radicals through a process called resonance. A single fruit may have close to 100 different polyphenols.
Carotenoids are pigments that give foods such as carrots and sweet potatoes their characteristic orange color. The most common are lycopene and beta-carotene (the precursor to vitamin A). Many carotenoids have antioxidant abilities.
Allyl sulfides are sulfur containing substances and are the most abundant compounds in garlic oil. They have been shown to be potent cancer fighters.
Phytochemicals have many benefits for health including fighting the free radical damage caused by ultraviolet radiation and cigarette smoke. Let’s take a closer look at how free radical changes are damaging to our health.
How does free radical damage occur?
Oxidation is the process by which a molecule combines with oxygen. Oxidation is a normal event that occurs in our cells all the time but in free radical oxidation, the oxygen is missing an electron. This makes it reactive and highly unstable. When a free radical combines with another molecule, it robs the other molecule of its electron and in the process causes damage. Free radicals destroy vital proteins, fats and DNA. It is the same process that is responsible for making butter rancid.
Oxidation damages the normal structure of our tissues and is thought to play a role in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease and the aging process. (See Table).
|Some Diseases linked to Reactive Oxygen|
Oxidation and Cardiovascular disease
Atherosclerosis is a type of cardiovascular disease in which the artery wall thickens due to the invasion and buildup of white blood cells, cholesterol and other fatty deposits. The invasion is triggered by an inflammatory response when lipid signal molecules (prostaglandins, leukotriene and thromboxane A2) are activated by free radical oxidation.
Oxidation and Cancer
Continued oxidative attack or oxidative stress is linked to cancer. Reactive oxygen damages DNA. Mutations accumulate over time and lead to cell dysregulation and tumor growth.
Oxidation and Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common mental health problem affecting older adults. Data from human and mouse studies show damaged fatty acids, arachidonic acid (AA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are involved in neurodegenerative development. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory drugs have proven to be partially effective in prevention. Epidemiological studies have shown the benefits of alpha-tocopherol (Vitamin E) in dementia.
What are antioxidants and why are they so important?
Antioxidants are substances that inhibit the oxidation of other molecules. In our bodies this can be accomplished by antioxidant enzymes (superoxide dismutases, catalases, and glutathione peroxidases) and molecules such as Glutathione, Alpha-lipoic acid, Coenzyme Q, Ferritin, Uric acid, Bilirubin, Metallothioneine, L-carnitine and Melatonin. Now, many of these molecules are available as supplements. By fortifying the body with antioxidants, we can slow this deadly process.
Where can I find antioxidants?
Antioxidants can be found in fruits, vegetables and grains.
|Foods with high Vitamin E (Antioxidant) content|
|Sunflower seeds||8.35 mg/ 32g or ¼ cup|
|Almonds||7.5mg/ 28 g or 24 nuts|
|Foods with high Vitamin C (Antioxidant) content|
|Peaches, sliced||235 mg/ cup|
|Peppers, red||232 mg/ cup|
|Orange juice||124 mg/ cup|
|Strawberries, sliced||105 mg/ cup|
What are the most powerful phytochemicals?
Oxygen radical absorance capacity (ORAC) is a method for measuring the antioxidant capacity of molecules. Tables comparing the ORAC values of different foods are available. However, it is important to understand that a variety of foods, containing a variety of phytochemicals is a better choice than large quantities of a single food.
Montine, T. et al. American Journal of Pathology . May 2005. 166 (5). 1283 -1289. Fatty Acid Oxidation in the Pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s Disease.
McIntyre, M. T. Circulation Research. 2010; 107:1167-1169. Lipid Oxidation and Cardiovasular Disease: Introduction to a Review Series.
Rizzo, AM. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2010;698:52-67. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4419-7347-4_5. Endogenous antioxidants and radical scavengers.