The power of ANTI-OXIDANT REPAIR MECHANISMS in the prevention of cancer

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By Dr. Georgiana Farrugia Bonnici (Former Diagnostic Radiographer & Medical doctor) & Dr. Antonella Grima (Public Health Specialist & State Registered Nutritionist

Carcinogens are defined as mutagens in a variety of forms, which may cause cancer either due to alterations or irreversible damage within the cell’s DNA, or else due to other external factors which may affect hormones or organic compounds.

Carcinogens can be classified into the following sub-groups:

1) Biological carcinogens:- These may include infections caused by viruses like the Epstein barr virus, the hepatitis B virus and the human T-cell leukemia virus.

2) Chemical carcinogens:- These consist of chemical substances which may either be found in the foods we eat on a daily basis, as well as in other harmful chemical compounds such as alcohol, tobacco-smoke which contains tar and carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and ammonia, amongst others.

Certain foods may also contain naturally occurring carcinogens, such as the alkenylbenzene derivatives in certain types of spicy oils, or else benzopyrene which is produced during the pyrolysis of processed foods. Furthermore, food additives are made up of food colorants, nitrates and non-nutritive sweeteners such as saccharin, cyclamate and aspartame, which are also related to bladder and colon cancers.

3) Physical carcinogens:- These may include some types of hard and soft materials like metals and metallic alloys, gel materials, asbestos, non-fibrous particulate materials, such as powdered metallic cobalt and nickel.

Moreover, excessive radiation in the form of ultraviolet (sunlight) rays, x-rays and other radioactive materials are also known to contribute to increased levels of certain types of cancer, such as skin cancer, thyroid cancer and bone marrow suppression.

Antioxidants are chemical substances that can interact with free-radicals, thus preventing them from causing any cellular damage. These antioxidants could be endogenous or exogenous.

1) EXOGENOUS ANTIOXIDANTS: These are also known as dietary antioxidants and may also be available in the form of dietary supplements. 

These dietary antioxidants can be found in fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, spices and grains. Examples of these dietary antioxidants include:- beta carotene, lycopene, vitamins A, C and E and selenium. 

2) ENDOGENOUS ANTIOXIDANTS: These are made by our own bodies and are therefore, not obtained from any food substances and as a result they are more potent than exogenous antioxidants. 

They may help in the repair of all the free radicals damage by initiating cell regeneration. Types of exogenous antioxidants include gluthione, alpha lipoic acid, superoxide dismutase, catalase and coenzyme Q10. 

Smoothies are an excellent way of increasing our intake of anti-oxidant rich fruit and vegetables in our diet. Whilst one should ideally eat fruit and vegetables in whole as part of our daily meals and snacks, we often find ourselves pressed for time. As a result, certain essential food groups, such as fruit or vegetables may at times be overlooked and omitted from our diet. Juicing extracts the clear component of these foods, discarding the fibrous components. Making a smoothie involves finely blending fruits and vegetables and retaining more components, particularly fibre found in the pulps.

Popular anti-oxidant rich foods that are used in smoothies include spinach, kale, tomatoes, nuts or seeds, carrots, kiwi, as well as herbs or spices such as cumin, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.

Below kindly find a simple recipe for an anti-oxidant and anti-cancer berry and beetroot smoothie that can be made in a few minutes using a whole cooked beetroot and half a cup of berries. In order to make the smoothie refreshing, one may opt for cold or frozen ingredients. One has to put the ingredients in a food blender, pulse to a fine consistency and consume immediately.

In order to retain the anti-oxidant properties of the foods that are used in smoothies, they need to be as fresh as possible and preserved in the fridge or in the freezer. When prepared, they are ideally consumed soon after preparation or kept in the fridge for a few hours at most. Ingredients such as vitamins deteriorate with time, especially in warm conditions.

Compounds found in beetroots can disrupt any cancerous mutation processes in cells. These compounds include betalains, the pigments that give beetroots their red and yellow colour. The fibre in beetroots has been shown to increase the number of white blood cells, which play a role in  detecting and fighting abnormal cells. Red beetroots have in fact been classified as one of the top ten most potent anti-oxidant vegetables. Beetroots are also rich in vitamins A and C which also play a role in preventing cancer and cell oxidation.

Even berries are a source of anti-oxidants, such as anthocyanins, ellagic acid and resveratrol. These compounds protect cells from oxidative stress and play a role in the prevention of diseases.  In fact, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries have a very high anti-oxidant activity when compared to other fruits. Berries are also rich in vitamin C, an anti-oxidant vitamin.

Fibre found in both berries and beetroots improve gut motility and feeds the microbiome, both leading to a healthier intestinal tract and improved general health.

When choosing the ingredients for a smoothie, it is important to vary the colours of the fruits and vegetables that are used and include a variety of different fruits and vegetables in order to provide our body with a wide range of phytochemicals and beneficial nutrients. 

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