Important Antioxidants – Holistic Healthcare
By: Kevin J. Eisenhour, MSN, RN, CPhT
Cardiovascular disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the US. Recent studies found that reactive oxygen species have been incriminated in the pathogenesis of both acute and chronic heart disease. Many botanicals possess antioxidant properties, and these herbal antioxidants may protect against cardiovascular disease by contributing to the total antioxidant defense system of the human body (Wang, Mehendale, & Yuan 2007).
Literature from the contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (2009) elucidates that antioxidants are molecules that work to prevent damage that occurs in cells and body tissues due to both normal bodily processes and exposure to some chemicals. The potential medical benefit of antioxidants may reside in their ability to prevent or slow the oxidation of molecules in DNA and proteins. Oxidation reactions may produce molecular substances referred to as “free radicals” which potentially cause chain reactions that can damage many cells in the body. Cumulative effects of many oxidation reactions may irreversibly damage the body. Free radicals are considered dangerous because they are atoms with an unstable number of electrons, which makes them more reactive than atoms with a stable number of electrons. These unstable atoms may take electrons from other atoms, such as those that make up DNA or proteins. With the loss of electrons from parts of the cell, impaired cellular function occurs, and DNA mutation may result due to the effects of free radicals (Natural Standard Research Collaboration, 2009).
The contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (2009) write that antioxidants may stop the free radical-caused chain reactions by neutralizing the electrical charge due to the unstable number of electrons, thereby stopping the process of damage and protecting the body cells and tissues. The human body may require a variety of antioxidants to reduce the impact of the free radicals created by oxidation reactions.
In addition to being found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (2009) asserts that antioxidants are available today as one of the most popular nutritional supplements which include Coenzyme Q10. Bagchi (1997) writes that Coenzyme Q10 is a lipid soluble benzoquinone which has been demonstrated to possess excellent antioxidant and cardiac tissue membrane stabilizing properties. It has been demonstrated by Scientists that people afflicted with heart disease have an alarmingly low supply of Coenzyme Q10. Therefore, says Bagchi (1997), because of aging, the body loses its ability to assimilate and synthesize sufficient Coenzyme Q10 from foods, it is very important to supplement with Coenzyme Q10 as the preferred source.
Bagchi (1997) contends that Coenzyme Q10 acts as the catalyst that allows the body to produce energy at the cellular level which enhances the immune system. Being an important regulator of the cardiovascular system, Coenzyme Q10 is described as a restorative for homeostasis in the heart and blood vessels. According to Bagchi (1997), Coenzyme Q10 is indispensable to biochemical mechanisms of bioenergetics. Coenzyme Q10 has a specific role as an antioxidant, having demonstrated hematological activity and has shown an influence on the human host defense system. Consequently, Coenzyme Q10 potentiates trans-plasma membrane electron transport system which influences healthy tissue regeneration, cell growth, and viability. Bagchi (1997) declares that the heart is the most susceptible of all body organs to premature aging and free radical oxidative stress. Since cardiac ischemia and reperfusion injury
are associated with the development of oxidative stress and free radical scavengers, antioxidants have been shown to be beneficial for ischemic myocardium. Bagchi (1997) proclaims the hypothesis that stimulation of Coenzyme Q10 may protect hearts from ischemia-reperfusion injury. Additionally, Coenzyme Q10 has been acknowledged to have profound advantageous effects in the following areas:
- Strengthens the heart, even without exercise.
- Protects against cardiovascular dysfunction.
- Normalizes blood pressure.
- Helps to reduce body weight.
- Attenuates immune function.
- Enhances stamina, endurance, and energy levels.
- Contributes to life extension
Another antioxidant is Green Tea (Camellia sinensis). In their literature, Wang, Mehendale, & Yuan (2007) indicate that tea is one of the most ancient and the second most widely consumed beverage in the World. Based upon chemical studies, green tea contains polyphenolic compounds with catechins being the most predominant groups of substances accounting for 16 to 30 percent of the dry weight. The major catechins are: (1) (-) –epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), (2) (-)-epigallocatechin (EGC), (3) (-)-epicatechin-3-gallate (ECG), and (4) (-)-epicatechin (EC). EGCG [(-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate] is the principal catechin and is thought to be responsible for much of the biological activity mediated by green tea. Polyphenols in green tea are composed of EGC, EC, and gallic acid (GA) such as EGCG (EGC + GA) and ECG (EC +
GA). These combined units, EGC, EC, and GA are structures of phenols, and this series of structures is easily oxidized.
According to Wang, Mehendale, & Yuan (2007), compounds that are easier to oxidize are oftentimes better antioxidants, as is true of green tea. The catechol group reacts readily with oxidants in the form of free radical reactive oxygen species to form a stable radical, the semiquinone radical. The compounds with catechol or 1, 4-dihydroquinone functionality are especially easy to oxidize because the resulting phenoxyl radical can be stabilized on another oxygen molecule.
Wang, Mehendale, & Yuan (2007) assert that green tea and its major constituents have multifaceted functions. During the past decade, a great deal of awareness has been focused on the antioxidant, cardiovascular disease and fatty-acids synthase, lipid oxidation in LDL, antimutagenic, anticancer, and antiviral actions of green tea. Most of these actions have been attributed to its antioxidant and free radical scavenging properties, particularly to the high content of polyphenolic compounds and microelements. Furthermore, writes Wang, Mehendale, & Yuan (2007), green tea polyphenol is recognized to be an excellent antioxidant that directly scavenges free radicals and inhibits lipid peroxide formation. Additional valuable functions and utilization of green tea includes the following:
- Green tea extract has been shown to protect against cardiovascular and renal diseases in several in vitro and in vivo studies.
- Green tea catechins delay the oxidation reactions by inhibiting the formation of free radicals or interrupting the propagation of the free radical chain reaction caused by toxic compounds, attenuating the progression of atherosclerosis and thrombosis.
- Green tea catechin derivatives have been confirmed to be protective agents in cardiovascular disease.
- Increased consumption of green tea is correlated with decreased total serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels and is, therefore, inversely related to the risk of coronary artery disease. Epidemiological studies illustrate that individuals who consume four or more cups of green tea per day lower their risk of atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease.
(Wang, Mehendale, & Yuan, 2007)
Mindell (2000) writes that Glutathione is one of the most universal and important antioxidants, particularly renowned for its detoxification properties. It is found in the cells of almost all living organisms and represents the front line of the body’s antioxidant defenses. In fact, says Mindell (2000), an individual could not survive without it. Specifically, Glutathione seizes free radicals before they start chain reactions followed by neutralization and passes them on to compounds such as vitamin E before starting the cycle again. Additionally, Glutathione binds to toxic substances in the liver, aiding in their excretion, while neutralizing the free radicals that are threatening to red blood cells. When there is a sufficient supply of Glutathione’s three amino acid components, Glutathione is constantly renewable, extremely abundant, and highly active in the body. Of the three amino acids, cysteine is the one that a person is most likely to be deficient in, and can be taken in supplement form, NAC (N-acetylcysteine). In contrast, a study of elderly people in England, says Mindell (2000), revealed that higher blood cholesterol levels, higher body weight, and a 24 percent higher rate of illness and death were all related to low levels of glutathione. Additionally, aging causes Glutathione levels to fall. Vitamin C and E supplements and Selenium can help to ensure that Glutathione works efficiently in the body.
Procyanidolic oligomers (PCOs) are bioflavonoids and encompass the following properties:
- Improves blood circulation.
- Strengthen blood vessel walls and prevent the coagulation of blood-clotting substances, providing protection against cerebrovascular accidents.
- Preempts LDL cholesterol oxidation.
This antioxidant is found in grapeseed, lemon tree bark, peanuts, cranberries, and citrus peels. According to Mendell (2000), PCO extract from grapeseed is one of the most potent given the fact that it increases the performance of other antioxidants. PCO extract from grapeseed is fifty times more powerful at scavenging free radicals as compared to vitamin E and twenty times more powerful than vitamin C. Furthermore, it enhances the potency of both these vitamins. In addition to its ability to neutralize free radicals, grapeseed extract strengthens capillaries, veins, and arteries; increases intracellular vitamin C levels; and strengthens collagen, the basic building block of the skin, tendons, ligaments, and bone cartilage. To promote increased absorption and effectiveness of the PCO extract in the body, grapeseed is packaged with phytosomes, by a process in which the molecules are combined with a natural component of lecithin.
Regarding other antioxidants that optimize health, Soy is one particular plant food that contains a fascinating combination of beneficial chemicals, many of which says Mendell (2000), have properties that make this food one of nature’s healthiest choices. Soy is derived from soybeans and is related to clover, peas, and alfalfa. Compounds found in soy that contributes to its antioxidant powers are called Isoflavones and, Genistein is the only one found in soy. According to Mendell (2000), laboratory studies have confirmed that Genistein inhibits the growth of cancer cells thereby providing prevention and protection. There is significant evidence that diets containing large amounts of soy products are associated with an overall reduction in cancer deaths. There are sound studies revealing its preventive effect in cancers of the colon, breast, prostate, lung, esophagus, and pancreas. The most effective cancer blockers in soybeans are the isoflavones which resemble the hormone estrogen, so they occupy estrogen receptors, but they don’t act like estrogens which are well known carcinogens. Genistein helps balance the body’s estrogen supply, says Page (2006), acting both as an estrogen and as an estrogen blocker, depending on your need. Like many phytohormone herbs, Genistein promotes the positive actions of estrogen, and prevents many of its bad effects by competing for both estrogen and progesterone receptors to prevent their availability for tumor growth. Isoflavones are thousands of times weaker than estrogens and actually work as anti-cancer compounds, similar to the way Tamoxifen, the most widely used drug in breast cancer treatment, works.
Additionally, soy antioxidants are poorly absorbed in the small intestines and thereby go directly to the colon. Once there, the development of colon tumors is reduced. In the laboratory, soy antioxidants prevent cellular DNA from being attacked by carcinogens (Mendell, 2000). Supplemental valuable functions and utilization of Soy includes the following:
- Soy is a powerful cholesterol buster preventing LDL cholesterol oxidation and in so doing helps to reduce blood cholesterol levels. A study in Milan found a preventative effect in a group of individuals who were on low fat diets and had high cholesterol levels. Those who added soy to their diets saw a drop in their cholesterol levels within just two weeks, while levels did not decrease in those persons not eating soy. Furthermore, when cholesterol was deliberately added to their diet, soy eaters still experienced the same drop in cholesterol (Mendell, 2000). Adding as little as 25 to 50 grams of soy protein daily to your daily diet for one month, says Page (2006), can result in reduction of blood cholesterol levels.
- Soy lowers the need for insulin in diabetics. Clients can achieve this by including a product made from soybean fiber, which is also beneficial in control of body weight (Mendell, 2000).
- Soy fights Osteoporosis. Mendell (2000) writes that excess protein causes calcium to be leached from the bones. Soy consumption results in far less calcium loss as compared to animal protein. Studies suggest that the isoflavones in Soy may help to retain bone mass. In two recent University of North Carolina animal studies, it was revealed that low-dose Genistein was almost as effective as a synthetic estrogen in preventing bone mass loss in rats without a natural supply of estrogen.
- Soy for healthy kidneys. According to Mendell (2000), soy is one of the few complete plant proteins and has been shown to be much easier on the kidneys than protein derived from a meat diet. Soy protein compares in quality to animal protein, writes Page (2206) – it’s a good alternative to meat or dairy foods. Soy offers complete protein, with all nine essential amino acids necessary for protein synthesis in the body.
It is recommended by Mendell (2000) to make Soy part of one’s daily diet. There are many ways incorporate into the diet, from soy protein powders to soy milk, miso soup, soy sauce, tempeh, and tofu. Studies show that tempeh and tofu are among the best ways to consume soy. Make soy a part of a diet low in fat, high in fiber, and rich in other whole foods and vitamins. As a final reflection, Page (2006) says to eat soy in moderation. Soy foods have confirmed benefits for our health. Enjoy soy foods in a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, seafood, and sea greens. Soy in excess of 4 to 5 servings daily and high doses of isolated soy isoflavones may potentially lead to problems for some people. Whenever possible, choose organic fermented soy products that are less affected by genetic engineering.