While oxygen is essential to life, it is also a highly reactive molecule. In the human body, oxidation occurs when oxygen molecules become electrically charged due to normal cellular activity, metabolic energy production or exposure to environmental factors such as smoking, chemicals, radiation or pollution. While the process of oxidation is critical to human function, it can cause an oxygen molecule to become a highly reactive free radical atom. These unstable free radicals are dangerous to human health because they chemically react with healthy stable cells, setting off a chain reaction which can damage DNA or proteins within the cell. Oxidative cell damage is implicated in the development of many diseases, including heart disease, cognitive impairment and cancer, and is believed to be a cause of premature aging.
To counteract or neutralize free radicals, the body produces antioxidants to protect itself and prevent disease. Your body’s ability to produce antioxidants is dependent upon factors such as genetics and the amount of toxin exposure, whether in the diet, the environment or through unhealthy lifestyle choices. The role of antioxidants is to prevent or neutralize free radical formation and keep the remainder at an optimum level, as some free radicals are used by the immune system to destroy pathogens. The natural production of antioxidants tends to decline with age and can be overwhelmed by the creation of free radical cells. When free radicals outnumber antioxidant defenses, oxidative stress can result. Oxidative stress plays a significant role in chronic inflammation, known to be the root cause of many age-related degenerative diseases.
Vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids and phytochemicals all play antioxidant roles in human health. A number of different antioxidants can be found in a well balanced diet high in colorful fruits and vegetables. To stay youthful and healthy, a wide variety of antioxidants is essential. To measure the value of a dietary or supplemental antioxidant, the USDA developed a scale known as the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity or ORAC score. The higher the ORAC score, the more free radical fighting potential the food or supplement contains. Antioxidants work synergistically, so a cocktail of antioxidant nutrients is ideal for optimizing your free radical defenses.
Foods with a high ORAC value include spices, such as turmeric and cinnamon, sulphurous vegetables, such as garlic, broccoli and cauliflower, fruits, such as acai and blueberries, vegetables, such as artichokes and asparagus, and beans, including pinto and the small but powerful red bean. Combining a variety of foods will increase the antioxidant capacity. The USDA recommends a minimum of 3,000 – 5,000 ORAC units daily. A typical American diet, low in fruit and vegetable consumption, may not reach beneficial levels. In order to receive the more optimal amount of about 12,000 units, high ORAC value fruit and vegetable consumption would need to increase to 8 – 9 daily servings.
High level powerful antioxidant supplements include:
- Astaxanthin – This naturally occurring carotenoid gives color to seafoods such as shrimp, crab, lobster and salmon. Widely recognized as one of the most powerful antioxidants, astaxanthin is a potent anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. Astaxanthin helps to protect the skin from damage caused by ultraviolet radiation and is excellent for exercise recovery and improved energy levels.
- Ubiquinol – As the reduced form of CoQ10, which plays a key role in cardiovascular health, ubiquinol is an easily assimilated antioxidant that significantly raises the blood serum levels of CoQ10. These higher levels help to increase energy and aid high-energy tissues of the heart, liver and brain. As the body’s ability to convert CoQ10 to ubiquinol declines with age, supplementing with ubiquinol after age 40 can lead to superior absorption.
- Turmeric – Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is a powerful anti-inflammatory and a potent antioxidant that not only neutralizes free radicals but also boosts the activity of the body’s own antioxidant enzymes. Curcumin is believed to increase Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF), which aids the growth of new neurons and helps fight degenerative brain processes. One very significant benefit is support of endothelial function, which helps to regulate blood pressure.
- Resveratrol – This heart healthy antioxidant found in red wine, chocolate and some berries, helps to reduce LDL cholesterol, curbs chronic inflammation and may help protect the lining of blood vessels.
- Pycnogenol® – Sourced from the bark of the French maritime pine tree, pycnogenol is a potent natural free radical scavenger. The health benefits of the active compounds found in pycnogenol are well established and range from immune system support to artery protection.
Supplements for antioxidant support:PaleoGreens – Mint by Designs for Health – This great tasting greens food is made with organic cleansing, regenerative and alkalizing grass juices, algae, enzymes, prebiotics and high ORAC value vegetables, fruits and berries. One serving has the equivalent antioxidant capacity of 4 servings of vegetables based on ORAC. Also available in Lemon/Lime or Unflavored. Gluten and soy free. Astaxanthin 4 mg by Pure Encapsulations – This powerful antioxidant, derived from Hawaiian microalgae cultivated under pristine conditions, supports skin, macula, joint, immune and cardiovascular health. Gluten and soy free. Bio-Cyanidins by Biotics Research – This product provides superior botanically based antioxidant support with Pycnogenol and grape seed extract (95% OPCs). Gluten free.