In Part 1 of this discussion I covered the basics of antioxidants and took a close look at the health enemies known as free radicals. I also introduced the antioxidant defense pyramid, which has three levels. The bottom contains those things that are essential to winning the war against free radicals’an overall healthy lifestyle, sleep, exercise and a good, balanced diet. The second level is basic supplementation, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene and the minerals selenium, manganese, copper and zinc. Following the guidelines of the first two levels will go a long way toward keeping you young and vital. That brings us to the top.
At level 3 the elite forces go to work against free radicals. They’re much like the Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and Army Special Forces. It’s extreme, but it’s extremely effective at keeping free radicals at bay. That’s because it includes superantioxidants’dietary supplements that have been shown to have superantioxidant benefits. Like the supplements in level 2, the superantioxidants are divided into water- and lipid-soluble free-radical scavengers.
In fact, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of dietary antioxidants, but we’ll focus on the most important, well-studied examples.
Water-soluble antioxidants on level 3 of the pyramid start with flavonoid compounds known as oligoproanthocyanidins. OPCs, as they’re called, occur throughout the plant kingdom and are found in high concentrations in such things as peanut skin, grape seeds, pine bark and cocoa. Commercially, the best extracts are from pine bark and grape seeds. Grape seed extract is a little more economical, and studies show it to be just as effective, so I recommend taking that over the pine bark extract.
Studies on OPCs are numerous and include much research showing utmost safety and efficiency’with 50 to 100 times the antioxidant activity of vitamin E and 20 times the potential of vitamin C. No matter how you look at them, they’re incredibly good for your overall health and well-being. Even more appealing is the ability of OPCs to increase the production of antioxidant compounds in the body as well as protect and increase the levels of other antioxidants, such as vitamin C. They’ve also been shown to positively modulate the immune system, protect vascular walls by bonding to and stimulating collagen and elastin, improve capillary flow and strengthen and stabilize membranes like those in the stomach, intestines, sinuses and joints. In Europe OPCs are the most widely used product for cardiovascular health. That speaks volumes about their beneficial nature.
When looking for an extract, make sure it’s standardized for total oligoproanthocyanidins, not just total polyphenols. Any reasonably good extract will be standardized for at least 90 percent OPCs. The recommended dose is 100 to 500 milligrams a day.
Another class of potent antioxidant flavonoids is the catechins, which occur in a wide variety of plants. The most popular and best sources by far are green tea and its extracts. Fortunately, green tea extracts have become increasingly economical as well as much more potent and high quality. Make certain that the green tea extract you drink is standardized for total catechins and not just polyphenols, since the catechins are the main beneficial components in green tea. It’s also wise to make sure the one you use is standardized for epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).
Research shows that EGCG and other catechins are like OPCs in that they’re incredibly powerful antioxidants, effective scavengers of hydroxyl and peroxylradicals, and that EGCG is the most potent and beneficial catechin. Catechins also directly neutralize environmental radicals and promote the regeneration of other antioxidants, such as vitamin E. As with OPCs, research shows that catechins have many other health-promoting benefits, most of which probably come from their antioxidant abilities. Human-based studies generally indicate that drinking green tea can lower the rate of esophageal cancer, mouth cancers, lung cancer, breast cancer and gastric cancers. Furthermore, catechins inhibit lipid peroxidation, which can lead to hardening of the arteries, as well as promote a healthy immune system, according to research.
On top of that, catechins improve carbohydrate metabolism, promote friendly intestinal bacteria and possibly assist in fat loss. The recommended dose of these compounds is 100 to 500 milligrams a day.
The last class of water-soluble antioxidants at the top of pyarmid are the flavone glycosides and terpenoids in Ginkgo biloba and its extracts (GBE). Like the two classes of antioxidants discussed above, GBE exhibits incredibly strong whole-body free-radical-scavenging ability. In addition to a direct-scavenging action on active oxygen species, GBE exerts a powerful anti-inflammatory effect and protects the cardiovascular system by inhibiting oxidation of lipoproteins, relaxing vascular walls and antagonizing the effects of platelet activating factor.
The most important aspect of GBE is its uncanny ability to protect and strengthen the entire nervous system, including the brain. Studies show that it reduces cell death in various types of neuropathy as well as prevents oxidative damage to nervous system mitochondria.
Practically speaking, there are many double-blind studies on GBE that show it to be extremely beneficial for improving mental capacity, memory disorders, cerebral infarction and dementia. If you’re interested in protecting your brain and nervous system from the damaging effects of free radicals, this is one antioxidant you should never be without. Look for an extract from a reputable company that’s standardized for at least 24 percent flavone glycosides and 6 percent terpene lactones. If you look hard, you might even find a superior extract with 30 percent flavone glycosides and 10 percent terpene lactone. Again, the dose is 100 to 500 milligrams per day.
Alpha lipoic acid, or ALA, is next on the list. I like to call it the transition antioxidant because it has very strong hydrophilic, or water-soluble, and lipophilic, or fat-soluble, properties. Some researchers consider it to be the universal antioxidant because it does so much and is so powerful. It effectively scavenges hydroxyl, singlet oxygen, peroxynitrite, ionized metals and other endogenous, or made-in-the-body, and environmental free radicals. It also directly recycles vitamin C and indirectly recycles vitamin E.
ALA increases glutathione levels, glutathione being one of the most important endogenous free-radical scavengers. Because it’s a small molecule as well as fat-soluble, it’s able to pass through the membranes of cells and provide its potent antioxidant protection within the cell. Studies show that ALA protects and promotes a healthy liver, prevents cataracts and glaucoma, reduces the risk of age-related macular degeneration, protects the nervous system and prevents the occurrence of neurological diseases and protects the cardiovascular system from the damaging effects of oxidized lipoproteins.
What I like best about ALA is its remarkable ability to normalize and even enhance the body’s ability to process and metabolize carbohydrates. Although that’s not directly linked to its antioxidant ability, it is a beneficial aspect of the compound that cannot be overlooked. Glycation is the process by which undisposed, excess glucose reacts with various proteins in the body, causing damage to cellular structures. That can be as damaging as the havoc free radicals promote. ALA interferes with glycation by vastly increasing the uptake of glucose into various cells’sometimes by as much as 50 percent’by sensitizing the cell to insulin, which is important for all people, especially athletes, as proper carbohydrate metabolism is essential for recovery, growth and overall health.
The recommended dose range for ALA is 100 to 1,000 milligrams per day.
Moving on to fat-soluble antioxidants at the top of the pyramid, in Part 1 I discussed the importance of the carotenoid called beta-carotene. It’s doubly important because it’s a potent antioxidant and it converts to vitamin A. Beta-carotene is widely found in the foods we eat and is contained in most multivitamin formulas; however, it’s not the only carotenoid that acts impressively as an antioxidant.
Carotenoids, as a whole, are fat-soluble and display remarkable free-radical-scavenging effects. Other carotenoids that are readily available and have been shown to have antioxidant and health-enhancing effects include lycopene and lutein. Both are found in many of the foods we eat, such as guava, watermelon, pink grapefruit, corn, spinach and so on. To use lycopene as a dietary supplement, however, you’ll get it as a synthetic compound or as an extract from tomatoes. Lutein is mainly found as marigold flower extract and sometimes in an extract of corn. Synthetic forms of carotenoids work just as well as the natural forms and are much cheaper, so go that route if you can.
Lycopene is a dark red carotenoid considered by some to be the most effective free-radical-scavenging carotenoid of them all. Naturally, it’s concentrated in the body to a greater extent than any other carotenoid. It’s found in the liver, lungs, prostate gland, colon and skin. Studies show that lycopene reduces the risk of various cancers, including prostate cancer. It’s also incredibly effective at reducing the risk of macular degeneration of the retina and inhibiting the oxidation of cholesterol. Finally, it protects cellular levels of glutathione peroxidase, which is one of the body’s most important endogenous antioxidant enzymes.
Lutein, like lycopene, is a very potent and important free-radical scavenger and works much in the same capacity; however, it’s even more important for the health of your eyes. It’s been shown to reduce the risk of macular degeneration by more than 40 percent. It’s also the only carotenoid found in the lenses of the eyes and may reduce the risk of cataracts by as much as 20 percent. What’s more, it, too, has been shown to be beneficial at reducing the risk of certain malignancies, such as breast cancer. Recommended doses for both of the carotenoids are 6 to 20 milligrams per day.
The last fat-soluble antioxidant in level 3 is coenzyme Q10. It’s produced endogenously and is about as potent an antioxidant as vitamin E.
Coenzyme Q10 occurs in every cell in your body, but it’s especially abundant in the heart and liver. It’s a necessary cofactor for cellular energy production. Although it’s not directly related to free-radical scavenging, there’s a significant benefit from it, especially when you consider that endogenous levels fall rapidly as we age. The combination of the antioxidant and energy-enhancing benefits of this supplement has led to widespread use and substantiation of its benefits, which range from treating heart disease to increasing energy levels, enhancing the immune system, reversing gum disease and preventing side effects of certain drugs. The recommended dose range is 30 to 300 milligrams per day.
As you can see, antioxidants are incredibly important for long-term overall health and vitality. The substances discussed here are only a few of the thousands of antioxidants that occur in your diet; however, they’re among the most studied compounds for overall effectiveness and safety. I strongly recommend that you take at least one of the above water-soluble antioxidants and one of the fat-soluble antioxidants. Of course, since each antioxidant works somewhat uniquely in the body, it’s better to take a combination of many of them.
Editor’s note: Derek Cornelius is the president of Syntrax Innovations. Syntrax’s Radox antioxidant supplement is available from Home Gym Warehouse, 1-800-447-0008 or www.home-gym.com. IM