anti oxidantsantioxidantsA renegade army within our bodies "free radials" are countered by antioxidants

There is a war going on in our bodies. Every day, countless battles are won or lost. When we lose a battle, it may result in more wrinkles or liver spots. When we begin to lose many battles, and the war goes badly, we open ourselves to disease. According to Richard Passwater, Ph.D., in his book Lipoic Acid, The Metabolic Antioxidant, losing this war can result in approximately 80 different age-related diseases, including cancer, heart attack, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, cataracts, and Alzheimer's disease.

This war pits free radicals against antioxidants two substances that occur naturally in the body but are augmented by foreign aid. Chemicals such as drugs, food additives, and preservatives, as well as cigarette smoke, pollutants, sunlight, radiation, emotional stress, and rancid fats all contribute to the free radical army. Eating a healthy diet and supplements bolster the defending antioxidant army.

Free radicals are highly reactive forms of oxygen. As your body creates energy at the cellular level, oxygen is metabolized, changing its structure. In this process, the oxygen molecule loses one electron, turning it into a free radical.

Free radicals attack our cells. When they attack blood vessels, it contributes to cardiovascular disease. When they attack DNA in our cells (and, according to some estimates, free radicals hit the DNA in each cell about 10,000 times every day) it may lead to cancer. Free radicals also attack us from the outside. When ultraviolet (UV) rays strike our skin, it can result in the creation of free radicals and lead to aging of the skin.

Antioxidants are the defending army. They quench free radicals by donating an electron to them. Our bodies create antioxidants naturally, and we get them from the foods we eat and through supplements. By keeping free radicals at bay, antioxidants can influence how quickly we age and make the difference between health and disease, if not between life and death.

The old soldiers

     Vitamin A (beta carotene), vitamins C and E, and the mineral selenium are the original soldiers in the antioxidant army. Known as ACES, these antioxidants were the first to achieve recognition for contributing to our health and are acknowledged by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

     Vitamin A and its plant form precursor, beta carotene, both attack singlet oxygen, a dangerous free radical that affects our eyes, skin, and lungs. Beta carotene is a proven immune booster, and is especially powerful in the elderly.

     Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant in the watery areas of the body, such as blood plasma, lung fluid, and eye fluid, as well as in between cells. It protects against such major degenerative diseases as cancer and arteriosclerosis and may slow the aging process. It also is necessary for a well-functioning immune system.

Vitamin E is the major fat-soluble vitamin, and is known for its protection of the cell membrane. It protects against the cancer-causing effects of air pollutants such as cigarette smoke and radiation. Research shows that it also helps protect the skin, relieves symptoms of arthritis, and reduces the risk of prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Selenium is an antioxidant mineral. Low blood levels of the trace mineral selenium may be linked to an increased risk of lung cancer, according to a study in the November 15, 1998, issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. Dr. Paul Knekt and colleagues at the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki, Finland, report that people with blood selenium levels in the highest third have 60 percent less risk of lung cancers. The researchers point out that selenium enhances the immune system, inhibits cell proliferation, and may have other anticarcinogenic effects.


After ACES, researchers continued to explore the antioxidant army. They became aware that more vitamins and minerals could be antioxidants. They began to see that other substances found in plants such as flavonoids also have antioxidant impacts.

Green tea

The antioxidants found in green tea are polyphenolic catechins. The best-known of these are epicatechin (EC), epigallocatechin (EGC), epicatechin gallate (ECG), and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Each of these molecules is an increasingly potent antioxidant. EC cannot neutralize as many free radicals as EGC, which, in turn, cannot neutralize as many free radicals as ECG, which cannot neutralize as many free radicals as EGCG.

In laboratory studies presented at a September 1997 meeting of the American Chemical Society, EGCG proved to be 100 times more effective at neutralizing free radicals than vitamin C and 25 times more effective than vitamin E.

Research does suggest that this antioxidant power may translate into helping to maintain immunity. In animal studies conducted in Japan in the early 1990s, green tea polyphenols increased activation of macrophages, B lymphocytes, T lymphocytes, and natural killer cells. All of these are white blood cells, which are the foot soldiers of the immune system.

Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has published articles on green tea. The March 1996 issue of the FDA Consumer states that recent studies do show some evidence that polyphenols chemicals in tea with antioxidant and other biochemical properties may, in fact, have value in protecting against some serious ailments. (FDA Consumer 30, no. 2 [1996])

Grape seed extract

Grape seed extract contains powerful antioxidants known as oligomers of proanthocyanidins (OPCs). Some studies say that OPCs are 20 times more powerful than vitamin C and 50 times more powerful than vitamin E. Grape seed is one traditional source of OPCs, although they are present throughout the plant world.

In a review of the benefits of the OPCs found in grape seed extract, Bombardelli and Morazzoni (Fitoterapia 66, no. 4 [1995]) note that OPCs antioxidant effects are generally credited for their other benefits. The authors note that these include an antimutagenic effect; that is, they inhibit the mutation of DNA. The authors point out that chronic degenerative diseases are believed to be a result of environmental mutagens (substances that cause mutation). OPCs may be able to counter these mutagens.

OPCs also have cosmetic value. They protect collagen and elastin, which are an important part of the makeup of skin. It is the interlacing of collagen and elastin which gives skin its strength, elasticity, and smoothness. When these two substances are damaged, the skin loses elasticity the result can be wrinkles. OPCs help restore damaged collagen and elastin and protect them against further damage. You could say that OPCs are an oral cosmetic to keep skin healthy.

Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10, although long known in alternative health for heart health, is now well-known as an antioxidant. Denham Harman, M.D., the father of free radical and antioxidant research, believes that coenzyme Q10 is one of the most important antioxidants. He states that the aging process begins in the mitochondrion, theenergy furnace located in the cell. Because free radicals are created when we burn food, the more we eat, the more free radicals are created, and thus, the more we need antioxidants. He notes that we should decrease calorie consumption and increase mitochondrion-stabilizing antioxidants to combat aging. He believes that coenzyme Q10 is the most important antioxidant for the mitochondria.

In an interview conducted by Richard Passwater, Ph.D., Harman states, The search for compounds that can slow down the rate of production of free radicals by mitochondria without depressing ATP formation is an important and interesting field of research. & Research in this area should mushroom in the next few years. Hopefully it will lead to measures that decrease free radical reaction initiation by the mitochondria without significantly decreasing ATP production.

Studies of mitochondrial diseases indicate that the degeneration of mitochondria can be slowed in some cases. Apparently, the most effective nutrient is coenzyme Q10. ( articles/harman_interview.html)


New antioxidants may tip the balance of power to good health

Since the antioxidant army first became known, it has been growing. The first soldiers were the well-known vitamins and minerals, and then other fighters joined their ranks. As research continues, we are discovering more and more weapons in the war against free radicals.


Glutathione is hardly new; it is the cells primary antioxidant and is manufactured by the body. However, it is just now being recognized as perhaps the most important antioxidant. Glutathione is produced by the body from three amino acids found in foods: glutamic acid, cysteine, and glycine. It is found in every cell in the body.

There are several million times more glutathione molecules in the cells than vitamin E. Glutathione is also found in the liver, where drugs, pollutants, alcohol, and other toxins are eliminated.

In his book The Antioxidant Miracle, Lester Packer, Ph.D., perhaps the leading antioxidant researcher today, notes that glutathione plays many roles. It protects against damage that can lead to cancer and protects DNA, and is also an immune booster, as it increases the production of T cells our primary disease-fighting cells.

Glutathione also helps regulate the genes that cause chronic inflammation and lead to problems such as arthritis and autoimmune diseases.

Glutathione is an essential part of the detoxification process this is why it is found in large quantities in the liver. It has the ability to make a toxic compound water-soluble so it can be flushed out of the body via the kidneys. According to Packer, maintaining high levels of glutathione is critical for life low glutathione levels are a marker for death at an early age. Unfortunately, glutathione production by the body diminishes as we age, and glutathione supplements don 't work.

The key to getting enough glutathione is found in other supplements, such as alpha-lipoic acid and N-acetylcystine, which both spark glutathione production. Packer believes the best way to maintain healthy glutathione levels is through supplementing with alpha-lipoic acid.

Alpha-lipoic acid

Alpha-lipoic acid is a new antioxidant that may turn out to be one of the most important of all antioxidants. First of all, it is both water-soluble and fat-soluble. This means that it can access all parts of our cells, which have both water-soluble and fat-soluble components. This enhances its ability to destroy free radicals throughout the entire cell.

Alpha-lipoic acid is especially powerful as an anti-aging substance. Aging can be described as a process that reduces the number of healthy cells in the body. The major factors in reducing healthy cells are free radical damage and glycation.

Glycation is the process in which protein in our bodies reacts with excess blood sugar (glucose). This damage is as detrimental to our health as that caused by free radicals. Alpha-lipoic acid may keep blood sugar under control, which reduces glycation, and thus slow the aging process. Both free radicals and glycation affect the appearance of proteins found in the skin. Thus, a secondary benefit of alpha-lipoic acid (and all antioxidants) is that we look young for our age.

Alpha-lipoic acid also works with other antioxidants to boost their levels. When you take alpha-lipoic acid, you also increase your levels of vitamins C and E, glutathione, and coenzyme Q10.

According to Packer, alpha-lipoic acid can protect against stroke, heart disease, and cataracts; strengthen memory and prevent brain aging; and prevent and relieve complications from diabetes.

Although little-known, N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a powerful antioxidant and a powerful tool in maintaining immunity. It has been used since the 1960s as a mucolytic; that is, a substance that breaks up mucus, especially in lung tissue, and has also been used for years in hospital emergency rooms to counteract acetaminophen poisoning.

Acetaminophen is not all that NAC detoxifies. It also detoxifies such heavy metals as mercury, lead, and cadmium (J. Clin. Pharmacol. 13 (1973): 332-6), herbicides such as paraquat (Rev. Respir. Dis. 143, no. 4 part 2 (1991): A731), and some environmental pollutants.

Clinical trials in Europe have indicated that NAC may also offer protection against the flu and flu-like symptoms. Research into NAC also indicates that it may enhance the production of human T cells, an important part of the immune system.

Rosemary extract and lycopene

Rosemary extract is increasingly under scrutiny for its antioxidant properties. Like other antioxidants, it inhibits and fights free radicals. Recent studies show that rosemary extract, and its constituents carnosol and ursollic acid, enhance activity of enzymes that can detoxify carcinogens: Animal studies show that the extract results in an increase in glutathione-S-transferase, one of these enzymes. Other animal studies have indicated a beneficial effect on the promotion of skin and mammary tumors. The abstract of a report on rosemary published in Carcinogenesis (16, no. 9 [September 1995]) concludes, Therefore, rosemary components have the potential to decrease activation and increase detoxification of an important human carcinogen, identifying them [rosemary components] as promising candidates for chemopreventive programs.

Lycopene, an antioxidant carotenoid found in abundance in tomatoes, has been found to be twice as effective as beta carotene and 100 times more effective than vitamin E in counteracting the dangerous free radical singlet oxygen. Lycopene first received attention when it was discovered that it significantly reduces the risk of developing prostate cancer. Today, preliminary studies indicate that lycopene offers strong protection against cancer and heart disease.

With these new additions to the antioxidant army, we may be on the frontier of truly winning the war against free radicals.

When we combine our antioxidants correctly, synergy boosts their effectiveness

The power of synergy

On their own, individual antioxidants are powerful. But we are now realizing that their true benefit lies in how they work together their synergy.

A number of studies point out that when used in combinations, antioxidants are even more powerful. Al Tapel, Ph.D., at the University of California at Davis, has compared antioxidant ability. He has found a combination of vitamin E, selenium, and beta carotene to be much more effective than the individual antioxidants and a group of nine antioxidants (including vitamin E, selenium, beta carotene, coenzyme Q10, and vitamin C) to be much more protective than two antioxidants (Free Radical Biology and Medicine 20 (1966): 165-73).

This may well be due at least in part to something called antioxidant cycling. Antioxidant cycling is the term that describes how antioxidants work together to extend each others lives and make each other more powerful.

When the antioxidant vitamin E disables free radicals, it becomes a minor free radical. Vitamin C, alpha-lipoic acid, and coenzyme Q10 convert the radical form of vitamin E back to its antioxidant-self. However, when vitamin C recycles vitamin E, it changes to a free radical. Alpha-lipoic acid and glutathione can both recycle  vitamin C back into a potent antioxidant.

N-acetylcysteine is used by the body to manufacture glutathione, and alpha-lipoic acid regenerates glutathione, ensuring that the body has an adequate supply. Selenium is part of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, which recycles glutathione.

OPCs also play a role in cycling, as they sacrifice themselves in order to neutralize harmful free radicals within the body. In doing so, they make it possible for vitamins C and E and selenium to do less antioxidant work, allowing these nutrients to perform their other functions in the body.

Observe then, the antioxidant army. Its individual components are strong individually, but when we give them the opportunity to work together, you have a fighting force that can defeat disease and slow down aging.

What does what
  • Vitamin E
works with selenium
recycled by vitamin C
recycled by alpha-lipoic acid
recycled by coenzyme Q10
  • Vitamin C
works with flavonoids
works with vitamin E
recycles vitamin E
recycled by alpha-lipoic acid
recycled by glutathione
  • Alpha-Lipoic Acid
recycles glutathione
recycles vitamin C
recycles vitamin E
recycles coenzyme Q10
recycles itself
  • Glutathione
recycles vitamin C
recycled by alpha-lipoic acid
produced by N-acetylcysteine
  • Selenium
works with vitamin E
helps produce glutathione peroxidase, which recycles glutathione
  • Coenzyme Q10
recycles vitamin E
recycled by alpha-lipoic acid
  • N-acetylcysteine
helps produce glutathione
  • Flavonoids (green tea, grape seed, pine bark, etc.)
work with vitamin C

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