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Free radicals, oxidative stress and premature aging

Free radicals, also known as "reactive oxygen species" (ROS), are atoms or atomic groups that contain unpaired electrons. Since electrons have a very strong tendency to exist in a paired rather than an unpaired state, free radicals indiscriminately pick up electrons from other atoms, converting those other atoms into secondary free radicals, and thus setting up a chain reaction that can cause substantial biological damage. To protect itself from the damaging action of free radicals, our bodies use substances called antioxidants, which are also often referred to as free radical scavengers.

Free radical diagramFree radical diagram 2

Oxidative stress is defined as the state in which the level of toxic reactive oxygen intermediates (ROI) overcomes the endogenous antioxidant defences of the host (Bulger EM, Helton WS; 1998). This state results in an excess of free radicals, which can react with cellular lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids, leading to local injury and eventual organ dysfunction.

According to Dr. Denham Harmon, MD, PhD, the process of aging is caused by the indiscriminate chemical re-activity of free radicals leading to random biological damage. If the free radical overload becomes overwhelming, chronic inflammation, premature aging and degenerative diseases result. His idea was confirmed by many practical experiments, and it is now considered a major theory of aging. Dr. Harmon's theory implies that antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E, which prevent free radicals from oxidizing (removing electrons from) sensitive biological molecules, will slow the aging process. Dr. Harmon launched his theory by showing, for the first time, that feeding a variety of antioxidants to mammals extended their life spans.

Free radicals are implicated in more than 60 different diseases

In addition to premature aging, the destructive effects of free radical chain reactions may be conducive to the development of such widespread and serious health conditions as peptic ulcers, gastritis, acid reflux, and IBS, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, infertility, renal, liver and lung disease, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, and cancer. Free radicals may damage DNA and cause it to reproduce incorrectly, too rapidly, or not at all. They can also change DNA to produce potential carcinogens.

The fact that free radicals play a major role in the formation of gastric ulcers has been confirmed by many independent researchers. All known risk factors for erosive/ulcerative esophageal, gastric and duodenal disorders - such as smoking, excess alcohol consumption, physical and emotional stress, etc. - deplete the natural antioxidant defenses and cause a free radical overload. As a result, the gentle, fragile mucosal lining of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum becomes one of the first tissues to suffer from damaging chain reactions induced by free radicals. To find out more about the role of free radicals in gastrointestinal disorders and about the results achieved by their treatment with antioxidant-rich pine nut oil, please press here.

Free radicals alter the functioning of the cell. While the cell is somewhat permeable to allow nutrients to enter and wastes to be removed, free radicals change this, causing leakage or clogging, and ultimately the death of the cell. Free radicals interfere with the structures inside cells that produce energy, and then leave the cells weak and defenseless.

Overall, it is now recognized that free radicals contribute to more than 60 diseases. We can help body to "scavenge" or "neutralize" free radicals before they cause harm by avoiding environmental toxins as much as possible and increasing antioxidant intake. Because antioxidant compounds are effective at very low concentrations, we can gain protection from even moderate dietary changes that increase antioxidant nutrients.

Our bodies protect themselves from free radicals by enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidants

Antioxidant preventing a free radical chain reactionOur bodies have developed several endogenous antioxidant systems to deal with the production of free radicals. These systems may be divided into enzymatic and non-enzymatic groups. The enzymatic antioxidants include superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, and glutathione peroxidase. SOD catalyzes the breaking down of a free radical called superoxide, which plays a major role in lipid peroxidation, into oxygen and hydrogen peroxide, which is further decomposed into water and oxygen by catalase. Glutathione peroxidase is also used by the body to consume free peroxide in the cells.

It is very important to note that, for maximum efficiency, these antioxidant enzymes require trace metal cofactors. SOD, for example, consists of proteins co-factored with copper, zinc, manganese, or iron. Iron is also required as a co-factor for catalase.

The most well-researched non-enzymatic antioxidants include lipid-soluble vitamin E (tocopherol), vitamin A and carotenoids (including beta-carotene), as well as water-soluble vitamin C and glutathione (GSH). Glutathione, which is synthesized intracellularly from amino acids cysteine, glycine, and glutamate, is capable of scavenging free radicals either directly or enzymatically via glutathione peroxidase. In addition, GSH is crucial to the maintenance of enzymes and other cellular components in a reduced state.

Extra virgin Siberian pine nut oil is an abundant natural source of potent antioxidants, vitamins and health-promoting micronutrients providing an array of benefits for the digestive system

Extra virgin Siberian pine nut oil, also called pine seed oil or cedar nut oil, is extracted from the edible seeds of Siberian pines growing in the wild forests of Russia and Mongolia. It is a rich source of powerful antioxidants and vitamins, as well as antioxidant and vitamin co-factors and “building blocks”.

Siberian pine nut oil contains up to 56 mg/100 g of natural alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) – the most effective non-enzymatic antioxidant for terminating the chain reactions of lipid peroxidation in cell membranes, leading to gastritis and peptic ulcers. In its vitamin E content it is second only to wheat germ oil and Camelina oil. It is significantly richer in vitamin E than any other common vegetable oil (for example, extra virgin olive oil contains five times less vitamin E than extra virgin pine nut oil). And, finally, it is very important that pine nut oil contains a natural, Siberian pine nut oil
maximum-potency form of vitamin E (d-alpha-tocopherol), whereas a vast majority of vitamin E capsules sold as dietary supplements contain synthetic forms of tocopherol (primarily dl-alpha-tocopherol acetate), which are at best only half as potent as natural vitamin E.

The next important group of antioxidant compounds present in extra virgin pine nut oil are carotenoids. Carotenoids are organic pigments occurring in plants and some types of algae and fungus. So far, more than 600 of them were identified. Their molecular structure makes them very efficient free radical scavengers, resulting in a powerful antioxidant effect. Some carotenoids (for example, beta-carotene) fall into the category of pro-vitamin A. From them, our body makes retinol (vitamin A), which is a potent antioxidant itself.

The abundance of vitamin E and carotenoids alone would make extra virgin Siberian pine nut oil an excellent natural remedy for the digestive system, but there is much more to its antioxidant activity. As noted above, another major antioxidant, glutathione, is a tripeptide synthesized by our cells from three amino acids: cysteine, glycine, and glutamate. Siberian pine nut oil, rich in essential and non-essential amino acids, supplies all three of these glutathione building blocks. Therefore, it is also an important glutathione booster, capable of enhancing the free radical scavenging performance of this major antioxidant both directly and via glutathione peroxidase. This also contributes to the powerful anti-inflammatory effect of pine nut oil, which further enhances its efficacy as a gastritis and peptic ulcer supplement.

Last, but not least, extra virgin pine nut oil is exceptionally rich in trace metal cofactors for enzymatic antioxidants superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase. It contains 20 mg/100 g of zinc, 16 mg/100 g of manganese, and 4 mg/100 g of copper - all of them required for maximum efficiency of SOD. It also supplies about 19 mg/100 g of iron, an Inflamed stomachessential cofactor for both SOD and catalase. Consequently, pine nut oil not only provides our body with a potent boost of "external", non-enzymatic antioxidants (vitamin E and carotenoids), but also reinforces and optimizes the body's own enzymatic potential for scavenging free radicals expressed through superoxide dismutase, catalase, and glutathione peroxidase. This powerful combination of antioxidants, vitamins, antioxidant cofactors, and healthful fatty acids (such as pinolenic acid unique to pine nut oil) makes Siberian pine nut oil an optimally balanced source of health-promoting natural compounds capable of neutralizing and reversing the negative effects of free radicals causing damage to the stomach lining and eventually leading to gastritis and peptic ulcers. Enhanced by its newly validated ability to naturally enhance metabolism and improve digestion, this makes Siberian pine nut oil a welcome addition to the growing list of traditional healing super-foods from around the globe.

Omega-3 fatty acids, free radicals and antioxidants

Omega-3 fatty acids are in the spotlight of today's natural and holistic approaches to human health. These healthy essential fats have been almost entirely forced out of the everyday American diet by the commercialization of our food supply by the food processing industry. In recent years, extensive research and numerous clinical studies have confirmed that omega-3 fats are involved in many vital physiological processes in our body, and that their deficit may cause or aggravate many serious medical problems and conditions, including atherosclerosis, hypertension, thrombosis, and other cardiovascular problems, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, dermatitis, asthma, ADHD, gastroduodenal diseases and even cancer. Therefore, adding a good source of omega-3 fatty acids to one's diet is believed to be a good way of improving or preventing these conditions.

However, almost any oil rich in omega-3s goes rancid very easily, especially when its natural antioxidants are removed by refining or distillation. This process is known as auto-oxidation, and it generates millions and millions of damaging free radicals. Bruce Fife, N.D., talks about these unwanted side effects of taking unstable omega-3 oils in his article entitled "The Facts on Flax"*:

"Polyunsaturated oils, including flaxseed oil, are easily oxidized. When it oxidizes it kicks off a series of free-radical chain reactions that affects all molecules around it. Millions of molecules can be destroyed or oxidized by the generation of a single free radical. Cholesterol that is in close proximity to a polyunsaturated oil that is becoming oxidized, as is the case in lipoproteins, will also become oxidized. These oxidized, free-radical damaged oils are absorbed into the lining of the artery walls and contribute to the formation of plaque."

Oxidation and free radical formation is, indeed, a major problem with flax oil for which no solution has been offered so far. The oil is poor in natural antioxidants, and starts going rancid as soon as it is pressed from the seeds. Most commercially available varieties of flax oil, both liquid and encapsulated, get rancid before they are consumed. And even if they don't, there is no way to avoid oxidation and rancidity once the oil enters your body. Once ingested, it inevitably triggers free radical chain reactions, damaging millions upon millions of healthy molecules. Your body tries to stop these reactions with its own natural reserves of antioxidants, such as vitamin E, putting these reserves under an unnecessary and undesirable stress. As a result, the benefits of taking flax oil may well be outweighed by the harm done by free radicals and other toxic by-products of lipid oxidation.

Camelina (wild flax) oil is rich in both omega-3 fatty acids and powerful natural antioxidants

Considering the above, one inevitably comes to the conclusion that none of the Gold of pleasure (Camelina Sativa) oil supplies omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidantscommercially available sources of omega-3 fatty acids is fully satisfactory and completely problem-free. While it is possible to achieve the required level of omega-3 supplementation using either fish and fish-derived products, or flax oil, it would be highly desirable to have an omega-3-rich oil that would also be more resistant to oxidation and free of toxic contaminants. The good news is that such an oil does, indeed, exist. This is the oil of Camelina (wild flax).

From the times of the Roman Empire to the Second World War, Camelina (Camelina Sativa) oil was a common edible oil all over Europe, and especially in Germany, Scandinavia, and Russia. In Russia, it was much preferred to flax oil because of its better taste and higher stability, and commanded a significantly higher market price. Camelina seeds produce a golden-colored oil with a delicate, almond-like flavor, containing up to 45 per cent of omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). In addition to valuable omega-3s, it is uniquely rich in powerful antioxidants, primarily tocopherols. At 110 mg/100 g, its vitamin E (tocopherol) content is among the highest of all natural tocopherol sources. By contrast, flax oil contains only trace amounts of vitamin E.

The fatty acid composition of Camelina oil is also unique and very beneficial in terms of its health-promoting qualities. While being a rich source of ALA, the oil is highly monounsaturated, naturally supplying more than 30 percent of stable monounsaturated (oleic and gadoleic) fatty acids. This significant proportion of monounsaturates (monounsaturated olive oil forms the basis of the healthy Mediterranean diet) further enhances the oxidative stability of Camelina oil and makes it a more versatile cooking oil.

Camelina (wild flax) oilThe combination of these important advantages makes Camelina oil the most balanced and desirable source of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. While supplying almost as much omega-3s as flax oil, it is highly stable and abundant in vitamin E and other natural antioxidants, as well as beneficial monounsaturated fatty acids. As a result, it does not promote the formation of harmful free radicals. On the contrary, it helps resist their destructive effects by providing powerful antioxidant protection.

The delicate, pleasant taste and aroma of Camelina oil makes it an excellent salad and cooking oil. On our easy recipes page, you will find many creative and innovative ways of using Camelina oil in your kitchen.

If you would like to order cold-pressed, unrefined Camelina oil or extra virgin Siberian pine nut oil, please visit out order page. If you want more information or have additional questions, please send an e-mail to our holistic nutritionists at We are looking forward to hearing from you!

* Bruce Fife, N.D. The Facts on Flax. Excerpted from the book Saturated Fats May Save Your Life, Piccadilly Books, 1999.

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