Carol (Missy) Cohen MPH, CHHC

What do vegetables have to do with sex?

Did your mother tell you all sorts of strange things when you were a kid?  One of my favorites was, “stay away from the pigeons. They are dirty!” I can remember thinking, “it’s a bird. How dirty can it be?”

And, of course, there is the age-old adage that every mother shares, “Eat your vegetables!”

Why are vegetables so important and why do we have to eat them every day?!

Well, as it turns out, Mom was right. Vegetables are really important.

Did you develop aches and pains as you aged? Do your joints creak? Do you have regular headaches? High blood pressure? All these things are signs of oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress?! What is THAT?!


Oxidative stress means that we are basically rusting from the inside out. Rust is oxidative damage that you might see on metals. When we suffer from oxidative stress, we have too many free radicals roaming around our body.

Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that are searching to be in a calmer state. Basically, they are really angry, in the molecular sense – although actual anger can create them too, and they show their anger by causing a lot of damage of tissues in general and cellular membranes in particular. Much like when a very angry person might punch a wall.

When a cellular membrane is damaged, much like the well, molecules struggle to move freely in and out of the cells and the cell do not have the materials that they need to create energy and keep us functioning optimally. In addition, it doesn’t allow waste to move out of the cells. We end up storing toxins and we end up… fat. This is how we get, you guessed it, fat and tired. Literally!

Where do free radicals come from?

We make free radicals naturally when we digest and metabolize food. They are the result of what we do naturally every day.

In addition, free radicals are created when we exercise. There are also free radicals present in the air we breathe, the food we eat and in the water we drink. When a car passes you as you are walking down the street, you breathe in the car’s exhaust and end up with a lungful of free radicals.

Stress causes a chemical reaction in our bodies that leads to free radicals. That stress can come in the form of emotional, chemical or physical.

What is a person to do?

Many of us have heard of anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants have chemical sex with free radicals which calms and relaxes them. When your anti-oxidants and free radicals are in balance, the inflammatory reactions that free radicals cause are greatly reduced because they are not angry and destroying tissue and cell membranes anymore. They are too busy enjoying themselves and relaxing.

Where do the anti-oxidants come from?

This is the part where I hate to say it but Mom was right. Eat your fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals that act as anti-oxidants as well as do a lot of other good things for your body.

Some people may say, “well, I heard vitamin E (for example) is an anti-oxidant so I’ll just pop a pill.” That is true. Vitamin E is one of the vitamins that has been identified as an anti-oxidant. However, anti-oxidants work in teams and you need more than just vitamin E to satisfy the free radicals. Science has not even discovered all the molecules that are involved in making those free radicals happy.

Also, our bodies are very smart and make anti-oxidants. Two examples are uric acid and glutathione. Glutathione is a chemical that is not only necessary to bind with the free radicals but also is involved in a process in the liver that aids in detoxification.

That means we need to eat our fruits and vegetables to provide our body with the raw materials that it needs to create other chemicals that act as anti-oxidant.

And about those pigeons…

There is no reason to think that pigeons are any dirtier than any other animal.

You were half right, Mom!







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