If you’re like me, you are aging and you see some sign of this every day in the mirror: graying hair, wrinkles, sagging skin, new spots on the skin, and so on. Though we rarely think of it, the inside of our bodies undergoes similar changes but with far more serious consequences.
Muscles and organs shrink and function less efficiently until, one day, they begin to fail. For example, the brain has been shown to lose one-third of its size between ages 35 and 70. Other organs experience similar decline and this makes us more susceptible to illnesses now considered typical of aging, from heart disease to diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s and more.
Cells are the basic building blocks of organs, and aging begins at the level of each cell, where structures become damaged and energy production goes on less efficiently. Some cells die without being regenerated and, over time, this is reflected in smaller, less active organs, decreased metabolic rate, and more.
Of course aging is an inescapable aspect of life, but researchers still want to identify its causes and find out whether it can be delayed. While the causes are many and complex the “free-radical theory of aging” provides a compelling explanation for what goes on, and one that is increasingly supported by research.
The theory starts from the observation that to produce energy cells use oxygen and, in doing so, generate highly toxic substances known as free radicals. In fact, even though free radicals are made inside the body, they are one thousand times more destructive to cell structures than a deadly poison like cyanide.
To protect itself from the potential ravages of these substances, the body makes some antioxidants and derives others from food. This is why an antioxidant-rich diet is so important for us to remain healthy and youthful. However, the balance between antioxidants and free radicals is never perfect and some cellular damage is inevitable. This damage is compounded when we are exposed to toxic metals or chemicals in the environment, because these substances all deplete us of antioxidants. According to the theory, over time this damage builds up and leads to aging.
Early efforts to find support for this theory were inconclusive because studies used weak antioxidants like vitamin E or beta-carotene and failed to combine them for synergistic effect. Single antioxidants taken alone are ineffective and can be counterproductive. However, as more potent antioxidants were discovered and research methods fine-tuned, studies started to provide overwhelming validation for this theory.
The following are some of the many aspects of health that have been shown to benefit from antioxidants:
Studies showed that resveratrol, an antioxidant in red wine, can delay or even reverse every marker of aging while activating a so-called “long-life gene.” Though many of us have this gene, it will do us no good if it lies dormant. Like all genes, it has a switch that can be turned on or off by factors in the environment. While antioxidants turn it on, free radicals and poisons in the environment have the opposite effect.
Resveratrol and other antioxidants were found to also benefit cardiovascular health, and to shift hormone balance in aging individuals towards more youthful levels. In addition, several studies found other antioxidants, like those in bilberry, to protect vision from age-related decline.
Many studies performed on fruit antioxidants, such as those in the tropical acai berry, focused on skin health and found these products to maintain youthful appearance of skin.
Cancer is another area where antioxidants have been shown to produce significant benefits in helping prevent the onset of disease, as well as improving treatment outcomes. Resveratrol and other antioxidants have been shown to delay the progression of cancer and prevent metastases when taken in conjunction with mainstream treatments.
Unfortunately controversy continues to abound on this topic. Recently a New York Times article entitled “Medicines to Deter Some cancers Are Not Used” quoted a number of oncologists and other experts, some from the M.D. Anderson Center here in Houston and none had anything positive to say about antioxidants. In brief, their position is that at one time antioxidants had been hoped to prevent cancer but large definitive research had shown this to be untrue and antioxidants were actually shown to increase cancer rates in certain groups such as smokers.
The studies cited in the article were large and heavily funded studies. However, all were significantly biased. While the negative results of these studies were announced in the press with great emphasis and are now considered definitive in certain segments of medicine, subsequent articles exposing the biases in the studies were widely ignored.
Fortunately, some see it differently. Charles Simone, MD, also an oncologist and author of a book entitled “Cancer and Nutrition,” lists 280 studies, all published in major medical journals and all of which concluded that antioxidants help in cancer.
Antioxidants are not just for aging individuals. Children also suffer from the effects of free radicals because of exposure to environmental toxins that, as noted above, deplete the body of antioxidant stores.
The effects manifest as conditions ranging from ADHD and autism to allergies, asthma and more. All of these conditions have been shown to benefit to varying degrees from antioxidant supplementation.
Pycnogenol, an antioxidant found in the bark of the Mediterranean pine, was one of the first to be shown in studies to ameliorate the symptoms of ADHD without the undesirable side effects of many medications. Other antioxidants that are beneficial include Alpha Lipoic Acid, NAC, glutathione, and resveratrol.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Fibromyalgia
Compelling research by Martin Pall, PhD, covered in his book “Explaining Unexplained illnesses,” showed that toxins are also involved in causing CFS and similar challenging conditions again by depleting antioxidant stores.
Several antioxidant combinations Dr. Pall formulated have recently been shown in preliminary research to help these conditions. Dr. Pall’s primary formulations are called FibroBoost and Flavinox. They are widely available and can be found on the internet or from my office.
Selecting an antioxidant supplement for general use
There are several excellent products on the market, but there are also many that fall short of expectations either due to poor formulation or lax manufacturing standards.
Certain formulations are designed for specific applications and need to be recommended based on specific challenges an individual is facing.
However, it is also a good idea to select a product for general health as part of a balanced program. When choosing such a supplement I recommend that you look for a combination product that contains a range of antioxidants at effective doses, and one that includes the recently identified highly potent antioxidants like resveratrol. Only buy products from reputable sources and avoid liquids that are vulnerable to degradation and which often contain undesirable additives.
After doing my own research I started to carry and recommend a product called Chews4Health. It is a combination product that meets the parameters set out above. As the name implies, it is chewable and also tastes naturally good because of its high fruit content. This makes it especially suitable for children, although it is great for adults as well. If you wish, you can find it and read the ingredient list on my Online Store.