Vitamins A, C and E can protect our bodies against the destructive effects of free radicals and either prevent, or slow down ageing. More recently, antioxidants have been discovered which can also play an important role in counteracting the ravages of time.
New research findings
Research into the science of preventing ageing is driven by the increase in longevity, which has occurred in many western countries. Thanks to the success of modern medicine and technology, countries like the USA have experienced a dramatic shift in the age distribution of their population. In 1900 only 4% of Americans lived to see their 65th birthday, by 1990 this figure had increased to 13% and projections estimate that by 2030, 20% of the population in the USA will be older than 65 years. Researchers are, therefore, encouraged to investigate factors that can contribute to healthy old age and maintain physical and mental wellbeing for three score and ten, or more years.
Research into nutritional factors that can prolong life and health has discovered a variety of additional antioxidants, such as catechins, bioflavonoids and ubiquinones.
Catechins are biological compounds primarily found in tea. 20-30% of dried tea leaves consist of these catechins. Tea leaves are, however, not the only source of catechins in the diet. Red wines, apples, grapes and chocolate also contain these useful compounds. Catechins are responsible for the characteristic taste, colour and aroma of black tea that has been brewed properly.
Research has shown that the catechins in tea have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, antithrombotic (prevent blood clots) and vasodilatory (expand blood vessels) properties. Most of these advantageous characteristics are believed to be caused by the antioxidant effects of catechins.
Drinking tea is, therefore, a healthy habit, which may help to prevent a variety of problems and boost your antioxidant levels.
South Africa is privileged to grow its own very special Rooibos tea, which is also brimming with antioxidants. The Japanese who import large quantities of Rooibos tea, consider it as an “anti-ageing beverage”. Japanese researchers have also identified that it has anticancer and antimutagenic (prevention of cell mutations) effects. One of the compounds in Rooibos tea called quercetin, is believed to have potent anti-inflammatory properties. One cup of Rooibos tea contains approximately 1.5 mg of quercetin.
In addition to quercetin, Rooibos tea contains a unique compound called aspalathin which together with the other flavonoids in this popular beverage, help to counteract the atherosclerotic processes that result in heart disease.
So let’s keep up the South African tradition of having a cup of Rooibos tea to stay young and healthy.
The ‘French Paradox’ of red wine
A number of years ago, researchers discovered that red wine also contains large quantities of protective substances, such as catechins, polyphenols and flavonoids. This in part helped to explain why the French who traditionally eat relatively rich foods, did not develop heart disease as frequently as their counterparts in the UK and other western countries. The polyphenols in red wine act as antioxidants and protect the heart and blood vessels against attack by free radicals. This is not a call to start drinking vast quantities of alcohol on a daily basis with the excuse that it prevents heart disease! Excessive drinking of any alcohol, including red wine, will have a devastating effect on your health, liver, waistline, and attempts to stay young. To obtain the benefits of red wine without the damage caused by alcohol, you need to be moderate and only drink one glass of red wine a day. More is not better in this case!
This large family of bioactive compounds occurs in foods derived from plants and 800 different bioflavonoids have been identified so far. To ensure that you get sufficient bioflavonoids, it is important to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, unprocessed grains and cereals, and legumes (dry beans, peas, and lentils).
Coenzyme Q, is probably the best known ubiquinone, which has antioxidant properties. There is some evidence that Coenzyme Q plays a protective role in heart disease, and supplementation with this ubiquinone has been effective in preventing heart muscle damage and treating congestive heart failure. The best sources of Coenzyme Q are fish oils, nuts, fish and meat.
It is evident that Mother Nature has provided us humans with a supply of wonderful nutrients, which can protect us against many of the debilitating effects of modern life.
To live a healthy and long life and combat ageing, we need not seek frantically for an Elixir of Youth. All that is required, is for us to eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, minimally processed grains and cereals, legumes, fish, nuts and lean meat, and drink Ceylon or Rooibos tea and the odd glass of red wine. Enjoy!
(Dr Ingrid van Heerden, Registered Dietician)
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