Antioxidants – The Answer to Aging, Longevity & Disease Prevention

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The four most common causes of death in America are not drunk drivers, violent killings, AIDS, or illegal drugs; they are:

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases
  • Americans spent over $7,400 per person in 2007 for health care, the highest in the world, yet our life expectancy is ranked number 45. Japan, on the other hand, spent less than 40% of what we did but the life expectancy is ranked number three in the world!

    As Americans continue to spend more on health care, the death rates from these chronic degenerative diseases keep going higher. The data reveals that countries that eat less processed foods and more natural foods have less diseases and a longer life span. Research studies have also shown that almost all of these chronic diseases can simply be prevented through diet and lifestyle changes.

    So, with the amount of processed foods that Americans eat on a regular basis (and definitely more than what the Japanese eat), are we depriving our bodies of certain nutrients found in natural foods that might help prevent us from these chronic diseases?

    Lately, there has been a lot of talk about the benefits of antioxidants. In the following, we will look at what antioxidants are and their role in human health and disease prevention. We will also discuss the best way to get your antioxidant nutrients, be it diet or supplements.

    What Causes Aging & Diseases?

    More and more health science researchers have come to the conclusion that oxidation is the cause of cell damage and aging.
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    Oxidation is a chemical reaction where two or more substances interact, resulting in the loss of at least one electron. Examples of oxidation are a freshly cut apple turning brown, a bicycle fender becoming rusty, or a copper penny turning green.

    Oxidation inside the body is introduced by stress, excessive sun exposure, environmental pollutants, cigarette smoke, alcohol, and unhealthy processed foods.

    Oxidation creates free radicals that are highly unstable and reactive. Free radicals are atoms with unpaired electrons; they attack the nearest stable molecule (with paired electrons) to steal its electron. When the attacked molecule loses its electron, it becomes a free radical itself, hence, creating a chain reaction. Once the process is started, it can cascade and result in cell damage.

    Your entire body, including your DNA, is under endless, daily assault from the free radicals. Excessive oxidation weakens the immune system, speeds up the aging process, and is linked to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, arthritis, many types of cancer, diabetes, eye diseases (age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma), heart disease, cirrhosis of the liver, and Parkinson’s disease.

    Antioxidants Against Aging & Diseases

    As nature always has a way to take care of itself, researchers found that antioxidants perform beneficial functions against free radicals:
    Antioxidants block the process of oxidation by binding with free radicals and neutralizing their harmful effects, hence, shattering their destructive chain reaction of cell damage.
    Antioxidants scavenge the initiating radicals and destroy them before oxidation is set in motion. Hence, when your body has enough antioxidants to counteract the free radicals, aging is delayed and diseases caused by harmful free radicals are avoided.

    Health Benefits Of Antioxidants

    As stated before, antioxidants are nutrients that inhibit oxidation; they bind with free radicals and make them stable. Some antioxidants like catalase, glutathione peroxidase, and superoxide dismutase are produced within the body, while others have to be obtained from the diet. The following are some of the more commonly known antioxidants and their health benefits:

    Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is found in meats and vegetables such as red meats, liver, and Brewer’s yeast. ALA is a powerful antioxidant that helps regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels, reduces inflammation, detoxifies the body of heavy metal, and enhances the immune system. ALA also has the ability to regenerate other antioxidants such as vitamins C, E, glutathione, and coenzyme Q10. So, when your body has used up these antioxidants, if there is ALA around, it helps regenerate them.

    Carotenoids (e.g. beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin) are the principal pigments responsible for the red, orange, yellow, and green colors of fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids help prevent night blindness, cataracts, macular degeneration, enhance immunity, protect against cancer formations, promote cardiovascular health, and relieve symptoms of both osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis.

    Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) or ubiquinone, is found in meats, fish, and vegetable oils, and is mostly made by your liver. CoQ10 has shown to benefit congestive heart failure, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, muscle weakness, chronic fatigue syndrome, breast cancer treatment, AZT/AIDS treatment, and type II diabetes. CoQ10 improves athletic endurance and increase energy levels.

    Flavonoids are compounds abundantly found in fruits and vegetables (e.g. blueberry, ginger, onion, tea). Flavonoids have anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-tumor, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergenic effect. They can also widen blood vessels and prevent blood clots.

    Glutathione Peroxidase (GSH) is the body’s most abundant natural antioxidant and is synthesized within the body cells. GSH protects the vision, boosts the immune system, helps turn carbohydrates into energy, and prevents the buildup of oxidized fats in arteries. It also plays an important role in detoxifying substances such as alcohol, pesticides, and drugs.

    Resveratrol is an anti-inflammatory substance found in the stems, leaves, and skins of red grapes, and peanuts. Due to the fermenting process, a glass of red wine contains much more resveratrol than a glass of grape juice or a handful of peanuts. Resveratrol helps prevent blood clots by keeping blood vessels open and pliable, hence, lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. It also discourages tumor growth and the development of colon cancer.

    Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is one of the most powerful and well-known antioxidants abundantly found in fruits and vegetables. It helps maintain healthy collagen in the skin, repair damaged tissue, promote healthy teeth and bones, and boost the immune system. Vitamin C functions as an anti-inflammatory and helps the body absorb iron. It combats free radical formation caused by pollution and cigarette smoke, and helps recycle oxidized vitamin E.

    Vitamin E, or alpha-tocopherol, is a primary defender against oxidation. The best sources are nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils. It boosts the body’s immune system, helps ease respiratory problems, reduces the risk of heart disease, various types of cancer and cataracts, slows the progression of some neurological diseases, and is anti-inflammatory. Vitamin E recycles oxidized vitamin C and beta-carotene.

    Food Sources Of Antioxidants

    The best way to increase our antioxidant levels is to eat a diet rich in antioxidants. The body better absorbs antioxidants in foods and there is very little risk of overdosing. The following are six antioxidant-rich food groups and the examples given are the ones with the most antioxidants in their respective food groups:

    Fruits: Apple, apricot, avocado, berries (blackberry, blueberry, cherry, cranberry, date, strawberry, raspberry), red grape (seed and skin), grapefruit, kiwi, lemon, orange, pineapple, plum, pomegranate, prune.

    Legumes: Black bean, pinto bean, red kidney bean.

    Nuts and Seeds: Cocoa, hazelnut, peanut, pecan, sunflower seed, walnut.

    Spices: Cinnamon, cloves, oregano, tumeric.

    Tea: White tea has the most antioxidants, followed by green tea and black tea.

    Vegetables: Artichoke, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, garlic, ginger, kale, onion, parsley, peppers, pumpkin, red beets, red cabbage, spinach, tomato.

    Do We Need Supplements?

    Although the ideal source of nutrients is your diet, in modern times, supplements have become increasingly important for three reasons:
    The American diet is high on processed foods and low on the nutrients available in natural, whole foods.
    Modern lifestyles, stress, and environmental pollutants have contributed to an increased need for supplemental nutrients.
    Intensive monoculture farming practices have depleted the soil of nutrients. Studies have shown that today’s produce contains fewer nutrients than the same fruits and vegetables 50 years ago, making supplements an essential component of a healthy diet.
    However, when it comes to antioxidant supplements, it is not advisable to take a mega dose of only one or two antioxidants. The reason is that the combinations of antioxidants work together like a balanced symphony. For example, Vitamin C and glutathione recycle oxidized Vitamin E, whereas, Vitamin E recycles oxidized Vitamin C and beta-carotene. Therefore, the key is not the quantity, but the blend. The whole gamut of antioxidants works together in a cycle to protect against all types of free radicals. No one antioxidant can do all of these.

    Although there is no solid evidence that mega doses of a single antioxidant supplement are really harmful, it is common sense not to take too much of any one on its own. For this reason, you should consult a trained healthcare professional for the appropriate combination of antioxidants if you do choose to use supplements.

    Super Foods

    Last but not least, there are now many so-called super foods available on the market. Some of these super foods are processed foods that claim to have certain health benefits or disease-preventing properties. Read the ingredient labels carefully and watch out for other unhealthy ingredients such as sugar and additives.

    Remember, super food is not a substitute for “real” food. The best source of antioxidants is still a natural, wholesome diet consisting of a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds.

    Resveratrol As an Antioxidant

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    They’re everywhere: you see them on TV, learn about them in magazines, and read them on labels of food or food supplements. The word ‘antioxidant’ has been placed in nearly every new food product since the early 00s. Most of us just buy the stuff thinking, “Hey this must be healthy” without knowing the effects and how it helps the body. But what is it? Where does it come from? And most importantly, what does it do?

    As these concerns rise, more and more companies are investing on products which can delay aging, make one look healthier and can produce antioxidants. Resveratrol, an antioxidant compound found in grapes, is not a newbie in this market.

    The word antioxidant originally referred to a compound that prevented the consumption of oxygen. Prior to its use medically, the term was used industrially. There were extensive studies of antioxidants to prevent metal corrosion, the vulcanization of rubber and the fouling of internal combustion engines. Research in biology turned focus to their use in preventing oxidation in unsaturated fats which causes rancidity. The identification of vitamins A, C and E as antioxidants revolutionized the field and led to the idea that antioxidants are important in the biochemistry of living organisms.

    There is a paradox in biology, particularly with the metabolism of almost all complex life on Earth. Almost all animals require oxygen to exist and survive. Oxygen on the other hand is a highly reactive molecule that harms healthy cells by the production of reactive oxygen species. In consequence, organisms evolved to have a complex system of antioxidant metabolites and enzymes that work together to prevent damage to cellular components such as DNA, lipids and proteins. Antioxidant systems in animals do not eliminate oxidants entirely. Rather, they keep oxidants in the body at an optimum and safe level.

    Antioxidants are molecules that slow or prevent the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that transfers electrons to an oxidizing agent. These reactions produce free radicals which start chain reactions and destroy healthy cells. Low levels of antioxidants in the body or the inhibited production of antioxidant enzymes cause oxidative stress which may damage or kill healthy cells. Oxidative stress also indirectly causes cardiovascular disease. Low density lipoprotein (LDL) triggers the process of atherogenesis which results in atherosclerosis and finally cardiovascular disease.

    The brain is the most vulnerable to oxidative stress injury. This is because of its high metabolic rate and massive concentration of polyunsaturated lipids which are targets for lipid peroxidation. Antioxidants are often used as medication to treat some forms of brain injury such as traumatic brain injury and stroke. Antioxidants prevent oxidative stress in neurons and prevent neurological damage. Studies are being made to see if antioxidants are possible treatments for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

    Scientists speculate that because resveratrol has highly hydrophilic and lipophilic properties, it can provide more protection than other well known antioxidants such as vitamins C and E. Hydrophilic antioxidants react with oxidants in the cell cytosol and the blood plasma. Lipid soluble antioxidants protect cell membranes from lipid peroxidation*.

    “Lipid peroxidation refers to the oxidative degradation of lipids. It is the process whereby free radicals “steal” electrons from the lipids in cell membranes, resulting in cell damage. This process proceeds by a free radical chain reaction mechanism. It most often affects polyunsaturated fatty acids, because they contain multiple double bonds in between which lie methylene -CH2- groups that possess especially reactive hydrogens. As with any radical reaction the reaction consists of three major steps: initiation, propagation and termination” – Wikipedia

    Antioxidants are commonly found in fruits and vegetables. Polyphenolic antioxidants are found in tea, coffee, soy, nuts, fruit, olive oil, chocolate, cinnamon, oregano, and red wine. If you notice, most of the foods containing polyphenolic antioxidants are common in the French diet such as nuts, chocolate and red wine. One particular polyphenolic antioxidant is resveratrol which is commonly found in red wine and peanuts.

    Being an antioxidant, resveratrol can cancel out the cell-damaging effects of free radicals. People who consume foods with resveratrol have a lowered risk of heart disease and neurological disease. There is some evidence that resveratrol, being an antioxidant, can prevent macular degeneration, suppressed immunity due to poor nutrition, and neurodegeneration. The French consume red wine every meal. The more formal meal courses actually have a different glass of wine for every course! And by tradition, red meat and fatty foods are paired with; you guessed it, red wine.

    Other sources of resveratrol include grapes, peanuts, eucalyptus and mulberries. The amount of resveratrol present in wines depends on how long the skins of the wines were in the fermentation process before being sieved out. Resveratrol functions as a natural guard against bacteria, fungus and infections in plants. Since fungus cultivates at lower temperatures, grapes grown in colder places tend to have more resveratrol in the skin than those grown at warmer climates.

    Aside from diet related ailments, cells become damaged even while exercising. During intense physical activity, the body consumes ten times more oxygen than at rest. This results in an increased production of oxidants which results in damage that causes muscle fatigue during and after exercise. Post-exercise oxidative stress also triggers an immune system response and brings about the inflammatory process. After cellular damage in the muscle fibers have been repaired or replaced by new tissue, the body becomes stronger. Resveratrol speeds up this healing process by increasing the body’s metabolic rate.

    Resveratrol, as discussed in the earlier paragraphs, has antioxidant qualities. It protects life against apoptotic stimuli (a DNA-damaging agent) and ischemic damage (tissue damage due to lack of oxygen and nutrients). In the face of oxidative stress, Resveratrol combats other forms of aging such as progeria or rapid aging in children, vascular oxidative stress, asthma, endothelial dysfunction and transplant rejection. It even protects plants against UV radiation! Now imagine how much more Resveratrol can do to humans!

    The component in Resveratrol that gives it its antioxidant qualities is polyohenol. Unstable molecules called free radicals cause oxidative damage to our tissues and as well as our cells by destroying their integral parts (DNA, membranes and proteins). When these cells are attacked, the organs which host these cells can also malfunction and health complications will eventually ensue. Polyohenol counter the free radicals’ attacks even in the face of pollution, breathing, UV radiation and other things which can generate oxidative stress.

    Resveratrol Recommended Dosage

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    If you are looking for the Resveratrol recommended dosage from a major health organization or government agency, you won’t find one. Guidelines for daily intakes are established to prevent known diseases that are caused by nutritional deficiencies.

    For example, the disease scurvy is caused by vitamin C deficiency. There are no known diseases that are caused by Resveratrol-deficiency. Guidelines may be established for it at some time in the future. They are always changing.

    Only recently was a recommendation made for daily omega-3 intake. At first, it was believed that omega 6 fatty acids were the only important ones.

    Basically, scientists are still learning about the functions of the human body and how different nutrients affect those functions. Resveratrol was first studied because it was thought that the amount present in red wine might explain a paradox that exists in Southern France. Despite a diet that is high in saturated fat, there is a low incidence of heart disease.

    Later studies indicate that red wine consumption does not significantly increase the level of trans-Resveratrol circulating in the bloodstream. So, it could not explain the French paradox.

    But supplements with an enteric coating can increase circulating levels of trans-Resveratrol, and the benefits of this unique antioxidant may be many. We really won’t know until we see how healthy we are in years to come.

    The Resveratrol recommended dosage to prevent heart disease, cancer and other age-related diseases is between 20 and 50mg, depending on your age. That is a safe dose and as long as the supplement is 50% trans-Resveratrol, it should be effective.

    The Resveratrol recommended dosage made by some supplement manufacturers is much higher, but the content of trans-Resveratrol is often 20% or lower. Trans-Resveratrol is the most active form, the most readily available to the human body.

    Pharmaceutical companies are currently investigating higher doses and synthetic forms of the natural antioxidant for treating cancer and lowering blood sugar levels. But, those of us who are naturalists prefer to take supplements that we believe will help prevent cancer and diabetes. There could be some drawbacks and/or negative side effects to higher dosages.

    You see, the antioxidant also has antibacterial or antibiotic activity. At high doses, it could disturb the natural flora in the digestive system. There you find good bacteria that aid digestion and keep the yeast population under control.

    At the Resveratrol recommended dosage noted above, the antibiotic activity will be minimal, if it is present at all. But at that dosage, it may have anti-viral activity, which is a good thing. Viruses serve no beneficial role in human beings.

    To get the most health benefits and the best value for your money, I recommend a complete nutritional supplement that includes trans-Resveratrol, your basic daily nutritional requirements and many of the other nutrients that we are only beginning to learn about. When combined with the Resveratrol recommended dosage, these nutrients can help us live longer healthier lives, free of debilitating diseases.

    Isn’t that what everyone wants?