I taught a class a few months ago at Everglades University about Antioxidants and in the course of preparing for and teaching that class I read a book called the Antioxidant Miracle by Lester Packer PhD. Wow! This was a great book and I learned some very important things about antioxidants over all. In medical school and on my every day journey of being a doctor and patient I have learned the importance of antioxidants to our health but my understanding of how to use them changed in dramatic ways after reading Dr. Packer’s book.
So, perhaps I should start with a brief explanation on antioxidants. Every day we create free radicals in our body and in addition, we are also exposed every day to a number of free radical producing chemicals and toxins in our food, in the air we breathe and in the products we use. Free radicals create something called oxidative stress.
Free radicals can be damaging in a number of ways: they lower immune function, cause us to age more quickly, set the stage for various cancers, cause inflammation and pain, lead to degeneration in our tissues, joints and bones and affect our cognitive function. This is just a glimpse of what I usually review over 2 or more weeks in class but it gives you the basics of the damage free radicals can cause.
Antioxidants are substances that deal with the free radicals. Thankfully, we have built in antioxidant pathways in our body to deal with free radicals to some extent and many wonderful medicines of the earth that also act as antioxidants. We can stimulate our antioxidant pathways in our body by eating healthy, staying hydrated, getting good sleep, thinking in a positive way and dealing properly with stress. In addition to all these wonderful strategies we can also use a variety of natural medicines to boost our antioxidant activities even more. For an approach using food see my post, “mom made all our meals from scratch”. I will post about the other topics eventually, but here I am going to review the substances Dr. Packer discusses in his book.
So, he puts forth this idea based on an enormous amount of research, that antioxidants actually function within a network. He shows that to get the best antioxidant action these network members must be taken together. In addition, he discusses other substances which are needed for the network to function at its best. So here is the overview:
- Vitamin C is vital to the production of collagen; enhances iron absorption
- Water soluble (located in watery portions of cell) but helps protect fat-soluble like vitamins A and E and fatty acids from oxidation
- Is easily damaged during food preparation such as chopping, exposure to air, cooking, boiling and being submerged into water
- May block the formation of nitrosamines-carcinogens formed in the stomach from nitrates in the diet
- Critical for well-functioning immune system
- Can reduce length and severity of common cold and viruses
- Bolster’s immune system’s ability to resist cancer
- May also prevent cancer by shielding DNA from FR damage
- FOOD SOURCES: bell peppers, citrus, broccoli, cranberries, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, kiwi
- Recommended intake per text: 500 mg daily of ester C, split dose
- Exists in 8 different forms of tocopherols
- We need a blend of tocopherols along with something called tocotrienols
- Located in fatty portion of cell
- Protects cell membranes and tissues from damage by oxidation
- Prevents oxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acids (cardiovascular protectant)
- Prevents oxidation of Vitamin A
- Sources: raw vegetable oils, nuts, nut butters, olives, rice bran oil, corn, barley, wheat germ small amounts in leafy greens
- Recommended intake (per Dr. Packer): 500 mg
- Can recycle itself and ALL of the network antioxidants
- Is the only antioxidant that can significantly boost glutathione levels
- Allowed in both watery and fatty portion of cell (unique to this substance)
- Takes over Vitamin E’s function in its absence
- Crosses blood-brain barrier
- Helps break down sugar for production of ATP (energy)
- Technically “Non-essential” (synthesized by body in small amounts)
- Important implication in PREVENTION and treatment of many diseases.
- Declines with age
- Recommended intake (per Dr. Packer): 50 mg twice per day
- Is a compound naturally made in the body and is synthesized in the heart, liver, pancreas and kidneys
- Body uses it to enhance cell growth and protect cells from damage
- Fat-soluble molecule that works synergistically with Vitamin E to protect the fatty part of the cell from free radical attack
- Stimulates the immune system
- Has been shown to help with side effects from cancer treatments
- Sources: produced by humans but also found in seafood and organ meats
- Body’s levels will peak at age 20, levels decrease in the body with age
- Recommended intake (per text): 30 mg daily; increase to 50 mg cardiovascular risk
- The most abundant antioxidant in the network
- Primary water-soluble antioxidant
- Is found in every cell and is an important weapon in the battle against free radicals
- Glutathione production begins to decline at age 40, it can drop almost 20% by age 60
- Low levels of glutathione have been linked to premature death and disease
- Is produced by the body from three amino acids:
- Glutamic acid
- Recycles Vitamin C
- Vital detoxification function in liver
- Levels reduced by Acetaminophen (ie Tylenol)
- Important for strong immune system
- Sources: abundant in fruits, vegetables, freshly cooked meat
- Recommended intake: none, levels boosted by Lipoic Acid
Co factors – these are other substances needed to help the antioxidant network and while I do not go into great detail here about these you can read about them in a variety of places including Dr. Packer’s book.
Dr. Packer suggested that these work best when combined together. So, I searched out a product and reviewed over 150 different antioxidant formulations until I found the best one. The one that used the right forms and the right amounts. It is called Quench, made by Bio Tech. However, it has recently been discontinued and so I am on the hunt again. I am trying to find someone who will make this specific formula such as a compounding pharmacist or one of the other nutraceutical companies…if I cannot find anyone to make it I will find the next best option and will let you all know. You can still find Quench a few places but you have to hunt for it. If you find it, buy several bottles, I did.
If you get a chance to read the book it is great!
The Antioxidant Miracle, Lester Packer, PH.D., ISBN 0-471-35311-6