Setting the record straight on free radicals
Free radicals are much maligned molecules, blamed for causing many of the diseases we suffer from and even the aging process itself. We are regularly reminded of this in the fruit and vegetable isle at the supermarket and by supplement brands promoting antioxidants to counter the effect of free radicals.
But dig a little deeper and you will discover that free radicals have an interesting little secret. It turns out that we need free radicals to be healthy. Free radicals are harnessed by our cells to send messages around the cell and between cells. Our immune system uses free radicals as part of its initial immune process (imagine free radical “bullets” being fired at an intruder) to slow the bugs down while the rest of our immune system jumps into action to fight off the infection.
It turns out, for optimal health, we need to live in a “free radical goldilocks zone”.
Too many free radicals and we shift into something called oxidative stress and if that persists for too long then we are on track to get a disease. But, if we have too few free radicals then it is equally harmful as our body loses the ability to mount a healthy immune response or to transmit messages that might notify the cell that something has gone wrong triggering a process where the cell removes itself for the health of the tissues that surround it.
However, science is now telling us to go a little easy on antioxidants and not over do it. The clues have been there for a long time. A large study many years ago found that smokers, who create a burden of oxidative stress in their body with every puff, that took a vitamin E supplement had an increased risk of death. In another study, older adults that took antioxidants alongside exercise didn’t get the same level of muscle growth as their peers who went to the gym without taking antioxidants. In each case the antioxidants interfered with the healthy free radical signalling process creating a problem larger than the one it was aiming to solve.
So how do we deal with the challenge of reducing oxidative stress whilst not over doing it and causing ourselves a serious health problem?
Two strategies are coming to the fore.
First, if you are going to take an antioxidant then take natural antioxidants that are derived from our diet such as Curcumin, Fisetin and Pterostilbene. These bioactive molecules support the natural levels of antioxidants that our cells make to balance the levels of free radicals in our cells to keep us in the “goldilocks zone” and also have secondary health benefits.
The second strategy and is one of the most promising I have seen for a long time is taking a molecule called 2-HOBA (Hobamine). Hobamine is an extract from the humble Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat. It is an interesting molecule that protects our cells from the downstream effects of free radicals whilst leaving the healthy free radicals alone to do their work. How Hobamine delivers its health benefits is fascinating. It is a member of a new class of natural molecules called reactive carbonyl scavengers. While that’s a bit of a mouthful you could also call it an antioxidant 3.0 or a smart antioxidant.
How does Hobamine work?
Hobamine works to mitigate the damage that free radicals cause in our cells. If you remember from grade school, free radicals are molecules that are unstable and all they want to find and react with is another molecule to become stable. They damage our cells because in the process of getting stable they steal a molecule from a part of our cell. Free radicals are not picky and damage whatever is closest to them … our DNA, our delicate cellular machinery, or our cell membranes. In the process the free radical becomes stable but whatever they damage becomes radicalised and reactive. Because we are carbon based the most common downstream effect of free radical damage is the formation of reactive carbonyl species. These molecules are highly reactive and only persist for fractions of a second. They are so short lived that you can’t measure them, but you can measure the result of the damage they cause.
Reactive carbonyl species bind with proteins, DNA and cell membranes affecting their function and, in some cases, interfere with the cells ability to remove the damage. Over time this is where the real damage from free radicals and oxidative stress is occurring within our cells and what is exciting is that Hobamine gives you a way, for the first time to slow the damage down. Hobamine neutralises the reactive carbonyl species before they have a chance to cause damage to the delicate cellular machinery, membranes and our DNA.
What makes this doubly interesting is that researchers have discovered that the immune system is activated by the end molecules that result from the process or reactive carbonyl species and our cell membranes and this may be part of the reason that we experience increasing levels of inflammation as we age.
Reactive carbonyl species and how to mitigate damage from them is now an active area of research and medical researchers have identified the link between reactive carbonyl species damage and diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease, autoimmune diseases, heart disease and high blood pressure. The list will continue to grow, and it is looking like the discovery of this new class of bioactive molecules could potentially reduce the burden of damage across our cells that we all accumulate as we age and potentially lead to helping protect ourselves from a wide range of conditions or better, get ahead of the damage and slow the aging process itself down. Hobamine is an exciting new tool in the fight to extend our health-spans so that we all get the opportunity to be healthier for longer.
Suzy Walsh BBA (Hons)., BNat., mNMHNZ is a Registered Naturopath & Medical Herbalist