THE MAGIC OF ANTI-OXIDANTS
There is very strong evidence that the redox reaction, (or intra-cellular oxidation) plays a significant role in the aging process, just as inflammation does.
We can’t change our genetic make up but we can minimize (not eradicate) inflammation and cell oxidation. Anti-oxidant supplements may be what we’ve all been waiting for!
The redox Reaction
I make no excuses for my bias – I believe in their benefit, I study them and their association with inflammatory disease, I take them, talk about them and I’m involved in affiliate businesses that sell them. This present over-view covers the basic principles and the benefits of the inclusion of natural foods and supplements to the diet, in order to reduce or eliminate what is likely one of the more significant factors in aging, disease and cell and tissue damage, the redox reaction.
Antioxidants and anti-ageing
Well, we’ve all heard of them but what exactly are they, what do they do and how do they work? Basically, what’s the big deal?
Antioxidants and the immune system
Recent clinical trials have found that antioxidant supplementation can significantly improve certain immune responses. Specifically, supplementation with vitamins C, E, and A or beta-carotene increased the activation of cells involved in tumour immunity in the elderly.
Supplementation with the antioxidant vitamins also protected immune responses in individuals exposed to certain environmental sources of free radicals.
Supplementation with vitamin A, a relatively weak antioxidant, decreases morbidity and mortality associated with measles infections in children.
What are antioxidants
Antioxidants are a group of chemical compounds, some of which are manufactured within the body, some occur naturally in certain foods.
They work together as a network to maintain health and protect the body against the damage associated with free radicals which have the ability to damage living tissue. Free radicals are produced constantly by the body just by ‘living’.
What are ‘free radicals’?
While they sound like a political splinter group, they are a by-product of respiration.
Breathing is getting oxygen into your lungs (and carbon dioxide out) but respiration is the process from where oxygen is breathed in all the way through to where the cells breath (take in and use oxygen to produce energy for the body to use). It is at the stage of energy production that free radicals form.
Free radicals are ‘unstable’ oxygen-containing molecules with an uneven number of electrons – which means that the equilibrium of electrical charge becomes unbalanced and the spare particle of power goes on to damage other healthy tissues (that’s basically the process but an oversimplification).
The uneven number allows them to easily react with other molecules. Free radicals can cause large chain chemical reactions in your body because they react so easily with other molecules. These reactions are called oxidation.
There are special cases however, for instance Nitric oxide (NO) is a very beneficial chemical for the body, but it too is a free radical. Nitric oxide can act as a strong antibacterial and is released from the sinuses to help keep the air pure that’s breathed in – but only in nose-breathing, it doesn’t work in mouth breathing.
Nitric oxide is not a typical antioxidant and antioxidants will not interfere in this area of cellular protection.
The body is under constant attack from oxidative stress. (Oxidative stress is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants within the body.
Oxygen in the body splits into single atoms with unpaired electrons. Electrons are drawn to these atoms, called free radicals, and within the body where when available they take other electrons so they can become a pair.
This causes damage to the recipient cells, proteins and DNA.
What do antioxidants do?
Antioxidants are molecules that can donate an electron to a free radical without making themselves unstable. This causes the free radical to stabilize and become ‘safe’.
How do antioxidants work
Oxidative stress is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body. Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules with an uneven number of electrons.
The uneven number allows them to easily react with other molecules. Free radicals can cause large chain reactions in the body because they react so easily with other molecules.
This reaction is chemically referred to as oxidation and can be beneficial or harmful. Molecules that can donate an electron to a free radical without making themselves unstable are therefore termed antioxidants.
This chemical reaction causes the free radical to stabilize and consequently become less reactive and potentially less damaging.
Are all antioxidants the same?
There are several considerations, however. First, realistically there are individual variations in different individuals, however we’re looking at an overview as we may have ways of measuring antioxidants in the system, but the relative benefits may be different given genetic differences, maybe not, we don’t know.
The second, and more tangible answer is that different antioxidants and different combinations may afford different amounts of value to an individual.
As an example, a Harvard study of people 55 plus headed by Dr. Devore, found that people who consumed more antioxidants overall, but mostly from tea and coffee, did not statistically lower their risk for stroke and dementia as they aged.
Again, that doesn’t mean individuals, but statistics do give an overview.
From the study, people who consumed antioxidants in the form of vitamin E rich foods, such as nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables, had a lower risk of dementia.
People who ate lots of vitamin C rich foods, like oranges, had a lower risk of stroke. One has to weigh results with care however, as other studies suggest that antioxidants in tea and coffee may help lower the risk for some types of cancer,
Parkinson’s disease and type 2 diabetes. To eat a variety of antioxidant rich foods appears prudent, even from larger studies such as these.
The associations “were still there on the individual level,” says Dr. Devore, “suggesting it was really the specificity of antioxidants for this cohort. I think that is the takeaway — specificity rather than overall capacity of the diet. Its the type of antioxidant that really matters.”
Therefore, I would say that the type, amount, combination and source must all be considered.
Are some, just stronger than others?
In absolute terms, yes, some are more powerful in their antioxidant capacity. This is measured as, ORAC value (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity), but in practical terms, this is one of several factors.
Interestingly, Hydroxytyrosol is the superstar of antioxidants – the most powerful discovered to date! It has an ORAC value (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity; (its ability to absorb cell-damaging free radicals) of 68,576 – which is considered to be 15X higher than green tea and 3X higher than CoQ10.
Hydroxytyrosol may therefore have powerful anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant and cardio-protective properties, and further research is encouraged.
Why are antioxidants important in dentistry?
As a dentist it needs to be noted that literally hundreds of studies and clinical trials have been conducted around the world over the past 50 years to clearly established the close relationship between antioxidants, free radicals and periodontal disease alone, not to mention the thousands directed at health and the prevention of other diseases.
The antioxidant system is highly complex and therefore the measurement of total antioxidant capacity (TAOC) was developed as a cost-effective instrument to assess the activity of the whole antioxidant system (Chapple et al., 1997) for future research. Multiple studies have shown probable benefits, in this complex area.
I’ve never seen a practicing dentist recommend this approach (there must be, I’m just not aware of any). This may partly be that although literature, studies and common-sense support it, dentists may not know about appropriate combination and dosage.
Unfortunately, antioxidants appear to have less financial, traditional and governmental support than patentable “cures” i.e. antibiotics, and these papers rarely reach the “peer reviewed” journals.
Clearly antioxidants in natural foods must play a part, indeed it may well be, that without a reasonable diet, the effects of antioxidants may not be optimized. On the other hand, studies show clearly that to get optimal and appropriate antioxidants is not possible by way of diet alone.
Many doctors (strangely enough) believe everything that multinational pharmaceutical drug manufacturers claim – yet won’t give consideration to other more studied, and better proven nutraceuticals, products.
A nutraceutical product is defined as a “food, or parts of a food, that provide medical or health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease”.
Generally, antioxidants in the right form, with the right diet, in the right combination and the right dose.
How do I know I’m getting the antioxidants I need and at the right dosage? You don’t, sometimes you have to rely on commonsense and a balanced view of the “pros and cons”.
If you’d like to order and take what I do – please click on the image below
It’s certainly true that it’s likely beneficial and safe to take (reasonable) amounts of specific antioxidants in the reasonable belief of gain, e.g. Vitamin C, but where do you go from there – it becomes quite difficult to optimize what scientists have been studying for years.
For me its just something that makes good sense, I’m just going to carry on doing it, because science and common sense support the value of antioxidant protection and the pathology resulting with impairment – I honestly believe that it works!
My opinion – While I am an affiliate for the brand, I have taken these supplements for years and will continue to do so unless evidence indicates otherwise.
In my opinion, this is an area that when addressed, and with a common sense life style, looks after itself. For me its simple – I take these supplements and then I get on with my life!
Dr. Stephen Bray 2019
As with all things, individuals respond individually. What makes some well, makes others ill. Statistically I think that supplemental antioxidants are beneficial in ‘reasonable’ doses. I do not believe in taking mega doses of anything as I don’t believe we know enough yet. For instance during the COVID outbreak I do take supplements in addition to the regimen I’ve disclosed. I take 1000mg of Vitamin C, Beta Carotene, Small doses of Vitamin E, Zinc and Selenium. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink and although my diet is far from ideal, I try to minimize carbohydrates (especially simple sugars) and maximise protein where I can. Together with adequate water consumption this is my approach. Am I right? Everyone likely has their own beliefs but from the research I’ve done, I’m happy with this for me – of course anyone changing their diet dramatically should consult their healthcare provider.
Dr. Stephen Bray 2020