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How a physician explains antioxidants to patients

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By William Sears, MD

After more than 50 years of practice, by far two of the most difficult concepts to explain to patients are antioxidants and their nemeses, free radicals. Yet balancing these two powerful forces is essential to achieving a long healthspan, which is the amount of time you spend on this earth in good health.

As physicians, we can and should do more than just tell patients to eat their blueberries and green, leafy vegetables. I’ve found that people are much more inclined to follow my advice when they understand why I’m telling them to do something. The human body is the most marvelous machine ever made. Patients may not completely understand how it works; they just know they depend on it to function properly 24/7. That’s similar to something else most of us depend on daily: our cars.

Here’s how I often introduce people to antioxidants

In my book “The Inflammation Solution,” I explain that your car engine produces exhaust from burning fuel. Your body’s engine is its metabolism. It produces “exhaust,” or by-products, called oxidants. If produced in just the right amount, these microscopic oxidants (also known as free radicals) act like antibiotics to attack germs that get into our cells. But if we have an excessive amount of exhaust (called oxidative stress), the free radicals damage our cells and tissues.

Enter antioxidants. These are molecules you make and eat to mute the damaging effects of oxidative stress. The antioxidants that your body makes and the ones you eat in smart foods and supplements act like microscopic fire extinguishers to blunt tissue damage from the exhaust of your natural metabolism. Health is oxidant (free radical)/antioxidant balance. Illness is an imbalance.

We should also discuss glutathione

Glutathione is one of the most-studied antioxidants, and for good reason. It is the master antioxidant, and it is made by the body. It has a tremendous ability to neutralize excess oxidants and help maintain that critical balance. Yet, as we age, the body becomes less efficient at making glutathione. If your body isn’t effective at increasing glutathione levels within the cells, where it’s needed, it may need your help to top off those levels.

Biography: William Sears, MD (Dr. Bill)

William Sears, MD, has been advising busy parents on how to raise healthier families for more than 40 years, and now has turned his attention to the specialty of lifestyle medicine. He is the cofounder of AskDrSears.com and the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute, which has certified over 10,000 Health Coaches around the world. He has served as a voluntary professor at the University of Toronto, University of South Carolina, University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, and University of California, Irvine. Together with his wife, Martha, he has written more than 45 books on parenting, nutrition and healthy aging. Dr. Sears and his contribution to family health were featured on the cover of Time magazine.

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