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Questions I often get asked are: what exactly do ‘antioxidants’ do? Should we take an antioxidant product and if so, what would I recommend as being a good product?’
Quoting ‘Wikipedia’, ‘an antioxidant is a molecule capable of slowing or preventing the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that transfers electrons from a substance to an oxidising agent’. Although oxidation reactions are crucial for life, they can also produce ‘free radicals’ which can be damaging, hence plants and animals maintain complex systems of multiple types of antioxidants. However environmental pollution, smoking, radiation, poor food choices and high stress levels will all demand that antioxidant intake often needs to be increased as the overall level of antioxidants has to be kept adequate to prevent oxidative stress which may damage or kill cells.
Many types of disease have been blamed on inadequate antioxidant levels. The brain in particular is vulnerable to oxidative injury.
Cardiovascular disease, neurological diseases and macular degeneration are all known to be of lower risk in people who have a higher intake of antioxidants. It is thought that antioxidants may be protective against a number of types of cancer.
Many products are marketed as having antioxidant properties and this is quite correct, they have. Examples would be any product containing: Quercetin, vitamins A, C or E, Glutathione, Lipoic acid, Co-enzymeQ10 or antioxidant enzymes such as superoxide dimutase (SOD) and catalases or other antioxidant chemicals such as resveratrol and proanthocyanins, or herbs that contain antioxidants such as green tea.
Quercetin is a flavonoid (which as a rule are antioxidants) and is found naturally in many common foods such as apples, onions, tea, berries, brassicas and many other nuts, seeds and flowers.
Vitamin A or Carotene is a powerful antioxidant and is essential for growth, bone development, night vision, reproduction and skin health.
Vitamin E is another naturally occuring antioxidant that may decrease the risk of heart disease by helping prevent the oxidation LDL cholesterol.
Lipoic acid helps recycle antioxidants such as Vitamin C and E, CoQ10 and Glutathione and is considered a greatly useful antioxidant as it can exert action in both water soluble and fat soluble domains.
Superoxide Dismutase (SOD) is also considered to be one of the body’s most powerful antioxidants. However oral supplementation of SOD does not increase tissue SOD activity unless it is combined with the carrier bioploymer gliadin which then increases its ability to be absorbed and gives it greater efficacy.
Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins (OPCs) are some of the most abundant polyphenolic substances in the plant kingdom. They are found in apple, pear and grapes and also in chocolate, wine and tea. They have potent antioxidant properties and appear to have an affinity for vascular tissue.
Green tea, unlike Black and Oolong tea is produced by steaming fresh young leaves at high temperatures , which has the effect of inactivating the oxidising enzymes and leaving the polyphenol content intact.
Minerals such as Zinc and Selenium are commonly referred to as ‘antioxidant nutrients’ as they are required for the activity of some antioxidant enzymes, but have no direct antioxidant action themselves.
The problem is simply stating that a product contains antioxidants does not mean that it is necessarily going to make a huge difference to a person’s antioxidant levels, most will just contribute, eating lots more fruit and veges will do the same thing.
Also in my experience it can also be quite difficult to determine how effective an antioxidant product is as everyone has a different set of health ailments and therefore a different set of improvements noticable to them. Some people will report definite improvements in inflammatory symtoms, others will report that their eye sight has become clearer, others that their memory has got better. With some products the skin takes on a noticeable more healthy glow.
However, overall there appear to be only a few that actually have significant effect.
I have come to this conclusion partially through watching the results reported by patients taking various products and also by the use of a ‘Free Radical Urine test’ kit that checks an individual’s level of free radical excretion, via a simple urine test. If a person’s free radical level is low then it could be presumed that dietary intake was adequate and there would be no point in taking a (usually) very expensive antioxidant supplement. However if a person was already taking an antioxidant product and found via this test that their antioxidant level was still high (after having taken the product for at least 2-3 months) then the conclusion can be drawn that either the dose is too low or the product is not effective enough.
Good antioxidant products are expensive so it is always best to increase fresh fruit and vegetable intake plus mineral intake first, then if you can afford it track down a good antioxidant product and watch carefully for further improvement in your health.
Note that some antioxidant products will state an ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity)rating, which is a measurement of antioxidant content of a food/juice. This goes some way to determining a good product from a not so good one.