in foods, diet, supplements, herbs and vitamins
Ray Sahelian, M.D.
Benefits: How much should one take? Can taking these supplements help you live longer?
Just about everybody has heard the word “antioxidant.” Over the past few years,
articles touting the benefits of natural antioxidant vitamins — such as vitamins
C and E and those in green tea — have been mentioned in countless
magazine and newspaper articles. Yet, even with all this press, most people
don’t have a good understanding of the concept of oxidation and anti-oxidation.
I recently asked a number of my patients if they really knew what the word
“antioxidant” meant. Although the majority of these patients were taking
such supplements, only a few understood what they were or how they really
The following is an antioxidant dosage recommendation for the average person who has no major medical problems. Please discuss with your health care practitioner the appropriateness of these dosages for your particular condition. Each person is unique and each doctor has a different set of guidelines since it is almost impossible to know for sure the ideal dosage for each person. With the thousands of antioxidants available in our foodstuffs and the dozens available as supplements, which ones should you take, and in what dosages? This web page will provide you with practical guidelines.
Vitamin E 20 to 200 units a few times a week of the mixed natural tocopherols and tocotrienols. It is not necessary to take vitamin E daily since it is stored in fat tissue. Doses higher than 200 units a day are not necessary. Avoid synthetic vitamin E.
Vitamin C 100 to 500 mg a day unless you have a high intake of fruits and vegetables.
R- Alpha Lipoic acid — 20 to 50 mg twice a week, in the morning with breakfast. R- alpha lipoic acid is quite powerful.
Acetyl-l-carnitine --- 100 to 300 mg twice a week in the morning a few minutes before breakfast if you wish to also notice mind boosting effects.
Antioxidants gaining popularity
Acai berry extract
Ashwagandha has relaxing properties
Bacopa enhances mental function
Carnosine is quite an interesting nutrient and potent. Visit carnosine informational site to learn more about the latest research on this dipeptide.
CoQ10 or coenzyme Q10.
Curcumin extract from the important spice turmeric has many health benefits.
Green tea extract has much research to back its beneficial properties including the compound EGCG
Milk Thistle is particularly helpful in liver health
Pomegranate juice or extract
MultiVit Rx High Quality Daily Vitamins and Minerals
See MultiVit Rx for full details or to order. Users actually do notice a pleasant mood, vision, and energy enhancing effect by taking one or two capsules of this multivitamin.
Mind Power Rx
Eyesight Rx with antioxidants to Improve vision
Additional Antioxidant vitamins and supplements
Chlorella supplementation has been studied with positive results.
Flavonoids may be
obtained through fruits and vegetables, however supplements are sometimes
helpful if you don't eat enough vegetables. Flavonoid supplements are available,
Anthocyanins and anthocyanidins are a large water-soluble pigment group found in a large number of fruits, vegetables and flowers. particularly grapes, pomegranate and berries. Bilberry and other berries have a high concentration of anthocyanins.
Catechins or Flavanols -- are found found in tea. Grape seeds including have the monomeric flavan-3-ols catechin, epicatechin, gallocatechin, epigallocatechin, and epicatechin 3-O-gallate. Research shows that the cocoa bean is rich in specific antioxidants, with the basic structure of catechins and epicatechin, and especially the polymers procyanidins,
Flavones include apigenin, luteolin and hispidulin. Luteolin is found in broccoli and greet chili. Apigenin is found in Chinese cabbage and bell pepper. Apigenin and other flavonoids may be helpful in reducing the formation of uric acid in gout.
Flavonols -- are found at high concentrations in onions, apples, red wine, broccoli, tea, and Ginkgo biloba. The most common in the American diet are Quercetin (70%), Kaempferol (16%), and Myricetin (6%); fisetin. These flavonols are found in high amounts in kale, onions, hot peppers, and rutabagos.
Flavanones -- Hesperidin, Naringin, eriodyctyol
Isoflavones -- Genistein isoflavone and Daidzein are found in soy and have an influence on bone health among postmenopausal women, together with some weak hormonal effects. Isoflavones are selectively incorporated in certain tissues like the breast and ovaries. They are able to bind to the estrogen receptors alpha (ER-alpha) and beta (ER-beta). However, the binding affinity for genistein to ER-alpha is only 4%, the affinity to ER-beta is 87% compared to 17beta-estradiol. Thus, depending on the estradiol concentration, they exhibit weak estrogenic or antiestrogenic activity. Isoflavones can influence transcription and cell proliferation. They modulate enzyme activities as well as signal transduction, and have antioxidant properties. Epidemiological studies have shown that the prevalence of hot flashes is lower in women from countries with high dietary isoflavone intake such as Japan than in Western nations with low isoflavone intake.
Lignins found in nuts and whole grain cereals.
Proanthocyanidins -- found in grapes, red wine, pine bark. Grape seed extract provides a concentrated source of polyphenols, many of which are proanthocyanidins. Red wine is rich in the complex polyphenols, the proanthocyanidins. Proanthocyanidins share common properties with other polyphenols, in particular their reducing capacity and ability to chelate metal ions. However, their polymeric nature clearly makes them different. They have a high affinity for proteins and their absorption through the gut barrier is likely limited to the molecules of low polymerization degree and to the metabolites formed by the colonic microflora, as suggested by in vitro experiments. The nutritional significance of proanthocyanidins is discussed in relation to their physico-chemical properties and bioavailability.
Procyanidins (oligomeric catechins found at high concentrations in red wine, grapes and grape seeds, cocoa, cranberries, apples, and some supplements such as Pycnogenol) have pronounced effects on the vascular system. Apples contain many kinds of polyphenols, and the main components are oligomeric procyanidins. Applephenon is apple polyphenol extract produced commercially from unripe apples, and has been used as food additive in order to prevent oxidation of components in foods.
There are also countless herbs that have antioxidant properties, for instance arjuna, reishi, thyme, basil, mangosteen, goji, acai, pine bark extract, etc. There are too many to list since most herbs and spices have powerful antioxidants.
ABC Prime Time had an episode in June, 2005 heavily promoting the five herbs listed above as excellent antioxidants. We had a recent email about this:
What do you think about this pill Protandim that they say may slow the aging process by increasing antioxidant enzymes that fight free radicals? Do you plan on carrying the pills? I saw it on Primetime the other night!
Protandim is basically 5 common herbal extracts: Ashwagandha, bacopa, curcumin, green tea, and milk thistle. They are selling Protandim for 49 dollars a bottle, whereas someone can buy all of these products individually for the same price but have several times the dosage they have in their product. So, it's a good product but expensive. Furthermore, there are countless herbs that have potent antioxidant properties, not just these five.
Understanding how they work
A common way used to describe oxidation is a piece of metal in the process of rusting. The process that occurs in the body is obviously different since we are made of living tissue. During the normal metabolism (or breakdown) of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins for energy production, certain molecules are generated that can damage the contents within cells. These destructive molecules often contain an unstable oxygen atom missing an electron. You may recall from high school or college chemistry that atoms, such as hydrogen and oxygen, have a pair of electrons spinning around them. An atom with only one electron in its orbit is very unstable. Chemists call this atom a free radical. This free radical can then steal an electron from a neighboring molecule and hence cause it to be damaged. The process of this damage is called oxidation. Cigarette smoke, fried foods, ozone, excessive sun exposure, car exhaust, certain drugs, radiation, and air pollution are common causes of oxidation. The body had developed ways to counteract these oxidants by producing antioxidants. An antioxidant is any chemical, natural or synthetic, that has the ability to neutralize oxidants (toxins or free radicals), thus protecting our cells from being damaged. There’s often a good balance between oxidation and anti-oxidation. A certain amount of oxidation in the body is necessary in order to fight infections or do repair work within cells. However, when a shift occurs leading to a preponderance of oxidation, without adequate antioxidant support, the body undergoes what’s called “oxidative stress.” The body normally produces powerful natural antioxidants—such as superoxide dismutase enzyme, glutathione enzyme, and catalase — to help fight these oxidants. Many antioxidants are also consumed through the diet, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables.
Several tests of antioxidant potency are commercially available These include: Trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity (TEAC); Total oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC Value); Free radical scavenging capacity by 2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl; and Ferric reducing antioxidant power (FRAP).
When excessive oxidation occurs for prolonged periods, it can take a toll on the system. Changes occur in cells which include damage to fatty acids, inactivation of enzymes, deterioration of cell membranes, breakdown of proteins, and damage to the DNA. For instance, if oxidants damage DNA, the eventual consequence could be a higher likelihood of cancer. If the damage occurs in arteries that supply blood to the heart, it could lead to hardening of the arteries and a heart attack. All these changes lead to disease and premature aging. There is, as of now, no definitive proof that ingesting antioxidants prolongs life span in humans, but enough evidence has accumulated on the benefits of antioxidants that one should not casually dismiss their potential in improving quality of life and slowing the progression of certain chronic degenerative disorders.
It’s quite likely that, over the long run, antioxidants could slow the progression of heart disease, cancer, age related cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, macular degeneration, and perhaps other conditions, though there is no definite proof yet.
What can antioxidants do for you?
As a rule you are not likely to notice any immediate cognitive benefits from taking antioxidants, except perhaps alpha lipoic acid which can help with eyesight or vision. Therefore, do not expect any dramatic changes in mood, energy, alertness, and memory. Antioxidants can be compared to health insurance. You pay your monthly fee but don’t often get the benefits until years later when you need a hospital bill paid. Antioxidants serve to protect your brain cells, proteins, and DNA from the gradual damage that occurs with the aging process.
Examples of oxidants
There are quite a number of damaging oxidants that we are exposed to on a daily basis. The most common are hydroxyl (OH), superoxide (O2), hydrogen peroxide (H202), and ozone (03).
Foods high in antioxidant potency
Many foods are high in antioxidant properties including most fruits and vegetables, spices, herbs, and teas. It's a good idea to have a wide variety as opposed to eating too much of one or two foods. Berries have high antioxidant content. Coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the U.S. diet.
Large variations in the content of antioxidants are observed in different foods and food categories. The food groups spices and herbs, nuts and seeds, berries, and fruit and vegetables all contain foods with very high antioxidant contents. Most food categories also contain products almost devoid of antioxidants. Of the 50 food products highest in antioxidant concentrations, 13 were spices, 8 were in the fruit and vegetables category, 5 were berries, 5 were chocolate-based, 5 were breakfast cereals, and 4 were nuts or seeds. On the basis of typical serving sizes, blackberries, walnuts, strawberries, artichokes, cranberries, brewed coffee, raspberries, pecans, blueberries, ground cloves, grape juice, and unsweetened baking chocolate were at the top of the ranked list.
A study provides a listing of the total concentration of antioxidants for
more than 1,000 foods and beverages commonly consumed in the U.S. Ranking the
items by antioxidant concentration per serving size, the five foods and
beverages with highest antioxidant levels were blackberries (1 cup), Welch's
100% Grape Juice (8 ounces), Ocean Mist artichoke hearts (1 cup), walnuts (1
ounce) and strawberries (1 cup sliced). These items ranked higher than
blueberries, red wine, chocolate, coffee and tea -- often touted for their high
There is no definitive proof at this time that taking antioxidant pills will help you live longer, nor is there good evidence that they will shorten lifespan. In order for us to know how they influence longevity, several well controlled studies have to be done on individual ones in varying dosages for at least a 20 to 30 year period while keeping dietary intake similar in all the study participants. This is not practical and not likely to be done. However, my understanding of research thus far makes me optimistic that we will eventually have a better idea which ones are effective.
For the time being if you do plan to take antioxidant supplements, take products that have a wide range of nutrients in low amounts as opposed to just 2 or 3 substances in high dosages. I am not convinced that taking megadoses of a single form of synthetic vitamin E or single carotenoid is a good option. One good daily formula with lots of different nutrients and antioxidants in small amounts is MultiVit Rx which can be taken at one capsule a day three or four times a week.
I have been intrigued by
anti-oxidant research since my graduate schools days. recall sitting tired in a
exercise physiology seminar when the professor talked of antioxidant research at UCSD saying "the results are inconclusive but this is what folks on the research
team are taking." I since went on to read research by Dr. Kenneth Cooper and
others. Now I have a friend who's telling me about a Dr. Seidman and a company
called Visalus (they're an MLM company, which has me skeptical, but they are
making some pretty big claims about patented formulas that are superior). I hate
the word "anti-aging" but my research tells me antioxidants may be helpful in
combating free radical damage: especially for an endurance athlete (masters
swimmer now). I realize you must be very busy but could you provide me with
insight or places to seek the latest research on how to determine proper
Long term human research with antioxidants and anti-aging is not available, hence it is anyone's guess at this time whether taking antioxidant supplements extend lifespan. There is a chance that they they will, however we have little idea which ones to take, in what combination, and in what dosages. If you choose to take antioxidant supplements, take small amounts, use a variety or alternate different ones, and keep in mind that more is not necessarily better. These are general guidelines but the limited research does not allow us to be more specific at this time. Do get most of your antioxidants from foods such as fresh produce and herbs. We are not familiar with Dr. Seidman and Visalus MLM company.
Brain cells benefit
The cell membrane of neurons is made mostly of phospholipids, which contain fatty acids. Nerve fibers that travel from the brain to the spinal cord, and from the spinal cord to the rest of the body, are also insulated with a white-colored fatty substance called myelin. With time, these fats can become oxidized, interfering with proper nerve activity. The process of fats becoming oxidized is called lipid peroxidation. The oxidation of fats contributes to brain aging and can accelerate degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. You may recall from chapter 7 that the brain contains a great deal of polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as DHA and arachidonic acid, which are particularly susceptible to oxidation. As we age, many of these fatty acids in the brain become damaged due to oxidation and they lose some of their double bonds, thus becoming more saturated. Neurons in the brain become less efficient the more the fatty acids become saturated. Antioxidants can thus play a protective role in keeping the fatty acids in the brain healthy. After all, about 60 percent of the brain is made of fat.
Some studies show low-dose antioxidant supplementation may reduce the risk of cancer.
Hypertension, blood pressure
Cell-damaging substances known as oxygen free radicals may be to blame for hardening of the arteries that often occurs in people later in life. Moreover, this oxidative damage appears to be strongly linked to increases in abdominal fat and levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Free radicals are a normal byproduct of metabolism, and we have natural mechanisms to protect us from free radicals. One such mechanism is estrogen, which acts as an antioxidant. When women lose estrogen after menopause, their bodies are no longer capable of fending off the damage free radicals can inflict on their arteries, causing them to stiffen. Giving postmenopausal women a high dose of antioxidants, such as vitamin C, reverses that process. Hypertension, 2005.
Infection by a prion can lead to oxidation and it is not known whether an antioxidant supplement helps.
Although many antioxidant pills do not immediately influence cognition and memory, they very well could have a positive effect in the long run. Researchers at the University of Bern, in Switzerland, evaluated a total of three hundred male and one hundred thirty female volunteers, aged sixty-five to ninety-four, over twenty-two years. In 1971, they measured blood levels of three antioxidants: vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta-carotene. They also performed extensive memory testing. They found that higher levels of antioxidants, particularly vitamin C and beta-carotene, were associated with better performance in memory testing. The researchers state, "These results indicate the important role played by antioxidants in brain aging and may have implications for prevention of progressive cognitive impairments."
The researchers only tested blood levels of three antioxidants. It is quite likely that a number of other antioxidants play a role in helping us preserve memory and mental capacities in our later years. For instance, an eight-month study in rats showed administration of extracts from strawberries and spinach, either alone or with vitamin E, was able to slow damage to brain cells due to the aging process (Joseph 1998). natural antioxidant benefit of antioxidant.
A new supplement, called PQQ, is being promoted for cognitive function.
Antioxidant intake is associated with semen quality in healthy men.
Hum Reprod. 2005.
It’s More than the ACES
For many years I heard doctors recommend the ACES — vitamins A (as beta-carotene), C, E, and the mineral selenium — as if they were the only important antioxidants. We now know there are thousands of substances that can act as free radical scavengers. Dozens of antioxidant products are available over the counter. Please keep in mind that many foods, plants, herbal extracts, and other edible substances such as mushrooms, royal jelly, seaweed, and others, contain beneficial antioxidants and nutrients.
Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C was isolated in 1928. This vitamin serves as an excellent antioxidant and could protect brain cells, including cells in the eye. The eye is highly susceptible to damage by sunlight, oxygen, various chemicals, and pollutants. Because of an aging Western world population and a continued depletion of ozone, having adequate antioxidants in the eye is very important. But how much vitamin C is enough to protect our cells?
Ever since Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling extolled the benefits of megadosing with vitamin C, the medical community has been debating the optimal dosage intake of this vitamin. Although many doctors stood firm for a long time asserting that the RDA of 60 mg for this vitamin was adequate, more and more doctors are now realizing that higher dosages can confer additional antioxidant benefits. However, the optimal daily intake of vitamin C has not yet been determined, nor is it likely to be determined soon. Nevertheless, we now suspect that excessive intake of vitamin C, expect perhaps in the therapy of a particular medical condition, may not be necessary.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition points that large doses of ingested vitamin C may be excreted without being utilized (Blanchard 1997). When the dosage of vitamin C given to a group of healthy men was increased from 200 mg a day to 2,500 mg a day, blood levels increased only negligibly. James Blanchard, Ph.D., a professor of pharmacological sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson, reports that the blood levels of vitamin C generally reflect the levels found in the rest of the body.
Most people should have adequate antioxidant protection with vitamin C at a dose of 100 to 500 mg per day. The majority of our intake of vitamin C should be obtained from fruits and vegetables, which additionally provide hundreds of beneficial carotenoids and flavonoids that often work synergistically with vitamin C. Many people take more than one antioxidant on a daily basis. Since antioxidants help protect each other from being destroyed, the amount required for each one would be lessened when taken together.
Summary and review
Pick up any health magazine and you are likely to see ads promoting dozens of different antioxidants. Many of them have a scientific basis to support their antioxidant properties. However, you can’t just take all of them. What should you do? First, keep in mind that as of yet there is no definite proof that antioxidant supplements will keep your brain young and it is possible that taking too many such pills can be counterproductive since free radicals may be needed for fighting certain germs or infections. However, there is enough promising evidence to convince me to recommend the antioxidants mentioned in the sidebar. Second, make sure you obtain the bulk of your antioxidants through fresh foods. Carotenoids and flavonoids can be easily obtained through fruits, vegetables, herbs and whole foods. If you do wish to take additional supplements, I recommend a multi-oxidant pill that contains small amounts of many antioxidants as opposed to large amounts of just one or two. You could even have two or three different products on your kitchen counter and alternate their use so you don’t get the same antioxidants in the same dosages all the time. Remember that the body needs some oxidation in order to fight certain germs and possibly fight some cancer cells.
Can you tell me exactly what a urinary oxidative stress test reveals, and what does a score of 4/4 mean. Thank you and keep up the great work.
I do not use such testing in my practice and do not know if it has any practical uses. Would the test results change daily based on one's diet?
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Thanks for your timely comments in the 2007 newsletter re the invalid conclusions reached by the Gluud antioxidant study published by the JAMA. My additional concern is, how could a peer reviewed journal of the JAMA's supposed stature even allow such a poorly conceived study to be published under its aegis? What were the editors and reviewers thinking!!
I am not sure, but I think there is a bias against vitamins by JAMA and other medical journals. When drug companies start taking ads in these journals promoting their vitamin supplements, the editorial bias is likely to shift.