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The Importance of Plant-Based Antioxidants
The Importance of Plant-Based Antioxidants
The terms antioxidants and free radicals are becoming familiar to most health-minded people. Loosely defined, a free radical is a highly reactive molecule that can bind to and destroy components of our cells. Free radical damage, also known as oxidative damage, is what makes us age. Free radicals have also been shown to be responsible for the initiation of many diseases, including America’s two biggest killers: heart disease and cancer.
Antioxidants, in contrast, are compounds that help protect cells from free radical damage. Research has found antioxidant nutrients such as beta-carotene, selenium, vitamin E and vitamin C to be very important in protecting against health conditions linked to free radical damage—basically all chronic degenerative diseases. In addition, antioxidants are also thought to slow down the aging process.
Not all antioxidants act the same
A combination of antioxidants provides greater protection than a large dose of any single antioxidant. This is because nutrient antioxidants generally have a very narrow range of activity against a single type of free radical. That’s why you also need plant-based antioxidants, which work with nutrient antioxidants to fill in any gaps.
The first step to establishing complete antioxidant protection is to consume a diet rich in plant foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Next, it’s important to take a high-potency multivitamin and mineral formula. Beyond that, many experts recommend using some form of plant-based antioxidant supplement to ensure broader protection.
Some of the most useful plant-based antioxidants are flavonoids, or plant pigments. Research shows that flavonoids are more potent and effective against a broader range of free radicals than nutrient antioxidants.
Besides lending color to fruits and flowers, flavonoids are responsible for many of the medicinal properties of foods, juices, herbs and bee pollen. More than 8,000 flavonoid compounds have been characterized and classified according to their chemical structure. Flavonoids are sometimes called “nature’s biological response modifiers” because of their anti-inflammatory, antiallergic, antiviral and anticancer properties.
Flavonoids as tissue-specific antioxidants
Because certain flavonoids concentrate in specific tissues or cells in the body, it is possible to take flavonoids that target specific health conditions. For example, some of the most beneficial flavonoids are proanthocyanidins (also referred to as procyanidins), which are found in high concentrations in grapeseed and pine bark extracts. A 2002 study in the journal Lipids demonstrated that taking 50 to 100 mg of these flavonoids daily for six weeks considerably improves the total antioxidant capacity of the blood. Several other published studies have confirmed this.
- Metabolic syndrome
- Type 2 diabetes
- Attention deficit disorder
- Male infertility
- Periodontal disease
- Varicose veins, venous insufficiency and capillary fragility
- Poor vision, retinopathy and macular degeneration
Grapeseed and pine bark extracts are most effective for people under age 50. For those over 50, ginkgo biloba extract is a good option. In people with a strong family history of cancer, however, the best choice is green tea extract.
The chart below can help identify which flavonoid or flavonoid-rich extract is most appropriate for you. There is tremendous overlap in how flavonoids work and what part of the body they benefit, so look for the one that best fits your specific needs.
|Flavonoid-rich extract||Daily dose for antioxidant support||Indication|
|Bilberry (25% anthocyanidins)||80–160 mg||Eye health|
|Hawthorn (10% procyanidins)||150–300 mg||Heart disease or high blood pressure|
|Ginkgo biloba (24% ginkgo flavonglycosides)||120–240 mg||Brain and vascular health. Best choice for most people over age 50|
|Grapeseed (95% procyanidolic oligomers) or pine bark||50–100 mg||Lung health, diabetes, varicose veins, heart disease. Best choice for most people under age 50|
|Green tea (80–90% total polyphenols)||150–300 mg||May provide the best protection against cancer; best choice if there is a family history of cancer.|
|Milk thistle (70% silymarin)||100–300 mg||Liver and skin health|
Dr. Murray is president and CEO of Dr. Murray Natural Living and director of product development and education for Natural Factors, a major manufacturer of nutritional and herbal supplements. Dr. Murray is a graduate and faculty member of and serves on the Board of Regents of Bastyr University, where he received his doctorate in naturopathic medicine. He is coauthor of A Textbook of Natural Medicine and the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. He has also written more than 20 other books, including Dr. Murray's Total Body Tune-Up, The Pill Book Guide to Natural Medicines and The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. For more information, visit DoctorMurray.com.
June 14th, 2012