Antioxidants

The long list antioxidants benefits is growing by the day, so it's more important than ever to make sure they're part of your everyday health regimen. This part of the NorthStar blog discusses a variety of antioxidant topics, including the best options and how to get them.

  1. Newsweeks’ lazy reporting got claims about antioxidants ALL wrong

    Last month, Newsweek ran an article proclaiming "Antioxidants Fall from Grace!" The piece led with a quote from a British chemist named David Bradley. In the quote, David questioned whether taking antioxidants is "good for your health."

    He even suggested that taking antioxidants might increase your risk for cancer!

    Okaaaay...I'll tackle that absurd statement in a moment.

    But first, let's imagine that you're a writer for Newsweek. Whose advice do you seek if you're putting together a serious exposé on antioxidants? Whose work do you quote to make your argument stronger?

    David Bradley, of course! Ah, yes. He fits the bill perfectly. Well, that's how the Newsweek reporter felt anyway.

    Now let's look at his qualifications. David Bradley is a blogger, science writer, and world-traveler. According to his web site:

    I've worked in science communication for more than 20 years. After reading chemistry at university, I worked and travelled in the USA and then took on a role as a technical editor at the Royal Society of Chemistry. Then, following an extended trip to Australia, I returned and began contributing as a freelance to New Scientist and various trade magazines. My portfolio has not stopped growing since.

    Okay, so David Bradley majored in Chemistry in college and now he's a bona fide Newsweek consultant! (Great choice, Newsweek. You picked a real authority to quote this time!) By the way, you can also find a free chemistry dictionary on David's blog as well as other helpful information such David's picks for the "Top 5 Tech E-Books of 2010."

    Seriously, I've got nothing against David Bradley. He seems have a great enthusiasm for science. He's just not a nutritional expert.

    (Nor should David appear as the lead expert quoted in a major mainstream magazine's critique of antioxidants. But maybe that's just me being picky.)

    But wait. It gets worse...

    Newsweek reporter's lazy research

    The quote the Newsweek reporter used in her lead was pulled (word for word) off a blog from David's web site. I seriously doubt she spoke to David personally...or even emailed him for that matter. (David probably would have discouraged the hack from making such a bad journalistic decision!) Instead, the Newsweek reporter just cruised the net looking for anyone with half a résumé who would talk badly about antioxidants.

    But that's not all.

    The second big problem with the Newsweek piece is that it targets flawed and obscure studies in order to make the case against antioxidants. In fact, one of the studies is so obscure that I wondered where the reporter found it.

    Then, I realized...

    Yep, it came straight from David Bradley's four-paragraph blog on antioxidants from 10-27-10. In it, Bradley cites a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. This study used severely diabetic rats with kidney cancer as test subjects. After the scientists fed quercetin and ferulic acid to the rats, their kidney cancer got worse.

    Now, come on!

    This is the big overwhelming proof that all antioxidants (including vitamins A, B, C, and E) are bad and have "fallen from grace"?! Not only is the study laughably obscure (using diabetic rats with kidney cancer, no less), the Newsweek writer ONLY came across it because she read David Bradley's silly blog.

    Plus, we're talking about quercetin and ferulic acid. Yes, they're great. But they're probably not sitting in the front row of your vitamin cabinet, are they?

    And it gets worse still...

    More flaws with Newsweek hack job...

    In 2008, the Cochrane Collaboration conducted a meta-analysis that reviewed 67 studies involving 400,000 patients who took antioxidants. After their review, these scientists concluded "we found no evidence to support antioxidant supplements for primary or secondary prevention, [and] Vitamin A, beta-carotene, and vitamin E may increase mortality."

    This is the main study the Newsweek reporter used to make the case against antioxidants. I'll admit, it's a better choice than the diabetic rat study. These studies involved actual humans...and lots of them.

    But the studies used mainly synthetic vitamins at very low dosages. Plus, most of the vitamin E studies involved didn't use complete vitamin E. As you'll recall, vitamin E consists of eight different molecules. And your body needs all eight! But if you only take one fraction...and that fraction is synthetic...it's not gonna do you much good.

    The same nutritional law applies to beta-carotene. It doesn't make any sense to test beta-carotene on its own. You don't find beta-carotene alone in nature without alpha-carotene, gamma-carotene and the other carotenoids. They work as a team in your body!

    So poor results don't surprise (or worry) me when the study uses just alpha-tocopherol or just beta-carotene. It sort of like saying a three-wheeled racecar didn't win the Indy 500. Nah, really!? Did anyone think it would? Of course, not...it was designed to fail.

    Newsweek reporter cherry picks bad studies

    I think we've established that the Newsweek reporter isn't so great at research. She picked some lame studies to cite. And she quotes a light-weight British blogger. But, remember. I'm a skeptic at heart.

    I think our friendly Newsweek reporter knew exactly what she was doing. In fact, she knew enough to cherry pick the bad studies...especially that 2008 Cochrane report. Plus, she committed a very savvy sin of omission...

    She didn't tell you about a major report published last year that reexamined all the Cochrane Collaboration's data. Yes, in 2010 a group of scientists looked back over all 67 studies. And guess what they found?

    You got it.

    Beta-carotene, vitamin E, and vitamin A did NOT increase overall mortality.

    Nice of the Newsweek reporter to omit that piece of information, wasn't it?

    Slow and steady wins the race

    The Newsweek reporter also failed to tell you about thousands (probably tens of thousands) of studies showing these nutrients do benefit your health. She also couldn't find one bad thing to say about vitamin C, the king of antioxidants.

    But here's one thing I'll give her...antioxidants are powerful nutrients. You are wise to do your research before beginning a new vitamin regimen. I also recommend working with a qualified medical advisor who focuses on nutrition. And, as always, keep reading the Guide to Good Health.

  2. Boost your health with sunflower seeds

    I keep sunflower seeds in my kitchen cabinets, at my desk, and in the car. These crunchy seeds contain lots of natural vitamin E. In fact, just a quarter cup of sunflower seeds contains almost 100 percent of your Recommended Daily Allowance of this fat-soluble vitamin.

    As you’ll recall, vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that patrols your body for harmful free radicals that lead to disease and aging. It also blocks free radicals from damaging cholesterol in your body. You see, every cell in your body needs a certain amount of cholesterol, but when attacked by free radicals, it becomes oxidized (or unstable). And cholesterol, once it has oxidized, can stick to blood vessel walls and lead to atherosclerosis. But eating a handful of sunflower seeds each day will give your body the tools it needs to flush out these unstable molecules.

    But that’s not all…

    When you eat a handful of sunflower seeds, it’s almost like taking a multivitamin. That’s because they contain all the nutrients your body needs, except for vitamin D. So when you bite into a sunflower seed, you also get:

    • Selenium, another powerful antioxidant shown to help with DNA repair
    • Magnesium, a versatile mineral that plays a major role in controlling blood pressure, migraines, muscle cramps, asthma, and fatigue.
    • Phytochemicals, such as phenolic acids and lignans, which may help prevent heart disease and cancer.
    • Fiber & protein, to help you to feel fuller longer.
    • Potassium, which helps to counteract too much sodium in your diet.
    • And even Tryptophan, the hormone that encourages the release of the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin.

    When shopping for sunflower seeds, look for black-and-white shells that are firm and unbroken. Skip any packs that have shells with a yellowish tinge…this means they’ve probably gone rancid. And if you buy them from a bulk bin, give them a sniff to make sure they still smell fresh. Add fresh seeds to salads, yogurt, oatmeal, and homemade muffins…or just eat them by the handful as I do.

  3. Supercharge your memory in 12 weeks with blueberries

    ‘Dirty’ fruit supercharges your memory in 12 weeks Scientists have found that one ‘dirty’ fruit could hold the key to supercharging your memory. Just one little fruit could stop -- or even reverse -- years of cognitive decline. So instead of drawing a blank when you run into a long-lost friend at the grocery store, her name will pop into your brain instantly. You see, this ‘dirty’ fruit contains special substances that help your brain cells send and receive information faster. Much faster. Plus, according to the new research, it doesn’t take long for your brain to start working lightening fast…just 12 weeks. Berry blocks natural brain aging Over the years, lots of studies have shown that this fruit reduces your risk of vision loss, weight gain, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. That’s nothing new. But very recently, scientists have also found that it also protects your brain from aging. I’m talking about blueberries, which contain two special kinds of antioxidants called anthocyanins and flavanols. They are special because they can cross the blood-brain barrier. Very few nutrients on Earth can do this. Once there, they scrub your brain cells and get rid of harmful free radicals. And that’s important…because free radicals in the brain can lead to oxidation, memory loss, and even Alzheimer’s disease. But that’s not all… Blueberries also help existing nerve cells in the brain to communicate with each other better. They even appear to encourage the growth of new nerve cells in the brain. That’s huge. Can you imagine, just for a moment, if Big Pharma came up with a drug that could grow new nerve cells in the brain. Not that it could (or would) ever happen, but can you imagine the headlines: “Grow New Brain Cells with Our Miracle Drug!!!!!” Sure, there would be the occasional side-effects, like your head exploding. But that’s a small risk. Thankfully, you don’t have to wait for Big Pharma’s next wonder drug. Blueberries can improve your brain function right now…and they’re a whole lot safer than any drug I’ve ever run across.

    Boost your learning capacity

    For the latest study, researchers fed aging rats a blueberry-enriched diet for one or two months. They also sent the rats through a series of mazes to test their cognitive ability. The faster the rat got through the maze, the better its score. The first time the aging rats ran through the maze, they scored badly. But after eating a diet filled with blueberries they all performed better, even the rats who were fed blueberries for just one month. In fact, in just one month’s time, they scored just as well as the young rats in the study. On the other hand, the aging rats fed a normal diet performed worse on later tests. In addition, the aging rats fed blueberries for at least two months kept their young brains. What does that mean? Well, these rats continued to perform like young rats even months after they stopped eating the blueberries. So it appears that eating blueberries has a lasting affect on the brain. According to Dr. David Malin, PhD, the team’s lead researcher, “The present results suggest that even a relatively brief blueberry diet might produce measurable benefits. Second, the benefits of several months of the diet might be maintained for a considerable period after the diet is interrupted. Third, blueberry supplementation might possibly reverse some degree of memory impairment that has already developed. This raises the possibility that this sort of nutritional intervention might still be beneficial even after certain memory deficiencies have become evident.” In other words, eating blueberries can really help your memory…even if you already show signs of mental decline. Plus, once you start eating blueberries, the results seem to be long-lasting. Now, I know these results came from testing rats. And the research has to come a long way before we can say with certainty that we’ll get the same results on humans. But the emerging data looks really positive. In fact, last year researchers from the University of Cincinnati found that men and women who drank about 500 mL of blueberry juice improved their learning and word list recall in just 12 weeks! They also significantly improved their depressive symptoms.

    So why do I call blueberries ‘dirty’?

    Yes, it’s true. These delicious brain-boosters are one of the ‘dirtiest’ fruits on Earth. In fact, each year the Environmental Working Group ranks fruits and vegetables according to their pesticide residue. And last year blueberries ranked fifth ‘dirtiest.’ This means that most blueberries on the shelves at your local grocery store are covered in pesticides. So is there such a thing as a ‘clean’ blueberry? The truth is, washing fruits and vegetables with soap and water (or even the specialty washes) does very little to remove pesticides. The only safe way around the problem is to avoid commercially grown produce. Choose organic instead. Another great option is to look for a supplement that contains blueberry extract.
  4. One of the many benefits of walnuts could be lower blood pressure

    Last month, researchers found that eating one type of snack food for six weeks could lower your blood pressure. Plus, this kind of snacking could even improve your blood pressure when you‘re under stress. And that‘s important, because if you have a high-octane lifestyle, you run a greater risk of developing heart disease. But can eating one type of food really make a difference? That‘s what researchers from Penn State recently set out to discover. For the study, they recruited 22 healthy adults with elevated LDL and asked them to follow three different dietary programs. The researchers provided all the meals and snacks and closely monitored the participants‘ progress. For the first six weeks, participants ate a "typical" American diet. It was high in fat and carbs, a few fruits and vegetables thrown in here and there, no nuts, and plenty of processed foods. For the second six weeks, participants again followed a "typical" American diet with two exceptions. They ate a handful of walnuts instead of another unhealthy snack. They also replaced some of the "bad" fat in their diet with one tablespoon of walnut oil. Their overall caloric and fat intake did not change. For the last six weeks, participants continued to follow a "typical" American diet. But this time researchers included a serving of walnuts, walnut oil, and 1.5 tablespoons of flaxseed oil each day. To see what kind of affect these dietary changes had on the body, the participants took a series of stress tests...

    Walnuts improve your body‘s response to stress

    At the end of each six-week period, the volunteers took two stress tests. The first test gauged the participants‘ reaction to mental stress. Researchers assigned each volunteer a random topic. The volunteers each got two minutes to develop a presentation based on the topic. Then, they had to deliver a three- minute speech on camera. Then, at the end of the presentation, researchers took the participants‘ blood pressure. The second test gauged the participants‘ response to physical stress. For this test, they dunked one foot into a bucket of ice-cold water. Again, the researchers measured the participants‘ blood pressure to see how their bodies responded to the stress. Overall, researchers discovered three things. First off, eating walnuts lowered the participants‘ resting blood pressure by two to three points. Secondly, eating walnuts improved blood pressure scores during both types of stress tests. In fact, researchers found that participants significantly lowered their average diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) in both sets of stress tests when they followed the walnut diets. Thirdly, the researchers found that adding flax seed oil to the mix didn‘t further reduce the participants‘ blood pressure. However, adding flax seed did have some other very important benefits. In fact, during the flax seed oil phase, some of the participants underwent a vascular ultrasound. The results showed that eating flax seed oil (in addition to walnuts) improved the participants‘ arterial dilation. The walnuts plus flax seed diet also lowered the participants‘ levels of C-reactive protein, an indicator of heart health.

    When your stomach grumbles, grab a handful of walnuts

    Walnuts are one of the best foods to snack on when you‘re stressed. They are rich in fiber and antioxidants. Plus, walnuts and flax seeds both contain alpha linolenic acid, a special kind of omega-3 fatty acid that promotes cardiovascular health. In fact, in another recent study men and women who ate ALA each day reduced their blood pressure by up to six percent. And if you‘ve got high blood pressure, that‘s not too shabby. It may be enough to get off your blood pressure medicine! So make one small, positive change in your life today. Substitute a serving of walnuts for one of your snacks each day. Ounce-for-ounce, they‘re much more filling than just about any other snack. Plus, they may help you stay calm and collected through even the craziest day. Just make sure they‘re fresh. Nuts can go rancid very quickly.
  5. More benefits of green tea – it protects your DNA

    Green tea protects your DNA. That‘s now a proven scientific fact, thanks to the work of Professor Iris Benzie. And her powerful new discovery helps explain why green tea drinkers seem to avoid weight gain, depression, cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer‘s disease.

    Three reasons to drink green tea

    We already knew that drinking green tea is good for you in a number of ways. First, it purifies the body by eliminating free radicals. Free radicals are those unstable molecules that cause disease and age your body. Secondly, drinking green tea promotes the healthy turnover of cells in your body. Technically, it‘s called "apoptosis." And it prompts old cells to die off so that new, healthy cells can take their place. Apoptosis also prevents cancer by blocking the uncontrolled growth and spread of damaged cells. And lastly, we now know that green tea also protects your DNA, the tiny building blocks found inside nearly every cell in your body. Many scientists compare DNA to an elaborate set of blueprints or instructions. Think of your DNA as "ground zero" for good health. It all starts in the tiniest building blocks of your cells.

    So what damages your DNA?

    Radiation, UV rays, toxins, chemicals, free radicals, and unhealthy diet can all -- over time -- damage your DNA. Fortunately, your body finds and repairs most damage on its own. In fact, special proteins -- I like to think of them as DNA "watch dogs" -- tirelessly scour your body looking for problems. When they find a damaged strand, they immediately tell the cell to stop dividing, so the problem won‘t pass on to the next generation of cells. And then your body goes to work repairing the DNA. This ensures that you will go on to live a long, healthy life. But sometimes the DNA cops miss a strand. And these damaged strands can cause problems down the road, such as premature aging and disease. The good news is green tea can help prevent problems from even occurring in your DNA in the first place.

    Green tea protects your DNA

    Iris Benzie and her team of researchers recruited 18 healthy volunteers to participate in a study examining the effects of green tea on DNA. They divided the volunteers into two groups. One group drank two cups of one percent green tea (longjing green tea or screw-shaped green tea) every day for four weeks. The other group drank water every day for four weeks. Researchers took samples of the participants‘ blood and urine before and after the month-long study. Their analysis showed that the group who drank green tea reduced their DNA damage by 20 percent. And that was after just 30 days of drinking green tea! Imagine how good your DNA would look if you drank it for one whole year or five years or 20 years! Plus...

    Why stop at one cup, when three is better?

    Research from earlier this year shows that drinking three cups of green tea every day may significantly increase your lifespan. This time, scientists compared the length of telomeres among green tea drinkers. (Telomeres are DNA sequences at the end of your chromosomes. They shorten as your cells replicate and age. So the longer your telomeres are, the "younger" your cells.) Scientist found that men and women who drank an average of three cups of green tea per day had a big advantage over one-cuppers. In fact, their telomeres were 4.6 kilobases longer, which translates into about five years of life. So go ahead and have that second (or third) cup of green tea today. It may just add five years to your life! Just make sure to drink the real stuff, made by you with tea bags. Don‘t fall for the sweetened kind found in bottles. These only contain a fraction of the antioxidants found in real green tea. Instead, it‘s mostly sugar and water.
  6. GlaxoSmithKline execs slammed for touting resveratrol

    One thing I don't like is a bully. And that's what GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is, when it comes down to it. Last month, GSK forced two of it's execs to stop their volunteer work with a non-profit called Healthy Lifespan Institute. According to its website, Healthy Lifespan is "dedicated to extending the healthy lifespan by studying, educating, and testing the rapid advances in the science and medicine of aging." (Sounds like my kind of organization!) So why exactly did the GSK execs get yanked from the non-profit? Did they spend too much time volunteering for the Institute? No. Did they divert GSK profits to Healthy Lifespan Institute? No. They forced the execs off the non-profit's board simply because the Institute sold resveratrol supplements...at cost. So what's so bad about that? Well, turns out GSK is trying to develop a resveratrol prescription drug that they can patent and make billions off of. As you'll recall from last week's Guide to Good Health, resveratrolis an antioxidant superstar that may help prevent any number of diseases...from Alzheimer's to cancer. I'll tell you what...I actually loved reading about this story. It shows that resveratrol is the real deal if it threatens even a big gun bully like GSK. Plus, every time you take your resveratrol, you're keeping a bully in its place!
  7. Resveratrol benefits… could it be the “fountain of youth”?

    I'm a research junkie. I'll admit it. So I just about jumped out of my seat when I read that someone had finally tested resveratrol--the antioxidant superstar found in red wine and grapes--on actual human beings! Yes, nutritionists have known about resveratrol for decades. It helps tame inflammation and prevent oxidative stress. This is significant because unchecked inflammation and oxidative stress can lead to heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer. Even the mainstream press picked up on resveratrol a few years back when scientists proved it could extend the lifespan of mice by 20 percent! They dubbed it the "fountain of youth." But until last month, there was one giant problem with this antioxidant phenom: Zero clinical proof actually existed that it works on humans. (And I mean, ZERO.) There was plenty of data showing that it can increase the lifespan of roundworms, fruit flies, mice, and yeast. But nothing on humans...until last month. Will the antioxidant superstar work on humans? You may be wondering, why all the fuss? If resveratrol is found in red wine...doesn't everyone know that drinking a glass of red wine is good for your health? And yes, that's true. But this study digs much deeper. In fact, it's the first- ever study showing why resveratrol may be a legit "fountain of youth" for humans after all. Specifically, scientists from the University of Buffalo wanted to see if resveratrol could decrease inflammation and oxidative stress in healthy men and women. So the scientists recruited 20 healthy men and women and took samples of their blood. Then, they split the participants into two groups. One group received 40 mg of resveratrol each day for six weeks. And the other group received a placebo. And here's what they found...

    Anti-aging extract scores off the charts!

    Resveratrol performed just as we all had hoped. First off, it blocked the formation of free radicals (reactive oxygen species or ROS). These harmful, unstable molecules cause damage to healthy cells. Over time, widespread free radical damage can harm your DNA and lead to a disease like cancer. But the participants who took resveratrol for six weeks significantly lowered their ROS levels. Secondly, the resveratrol group also lowered their TNF levels. TNF (or tumor necrosis factor) is a harmful protein that creates inflammation throughout the body. A few weeks ago, we talked about this harmful protein and the role it plays in rheumatoid arthritis. But TNF doesn't just harm rheumatoid arthritis patients. It causes widespread inflammation that can affect your blood vessels, your organs, your skin, and even your brain. It also messes with your body's insulin production. In fact, endocrinologists believe that lowering TNF levels will improve insulin resistance in diabetics.

    Small study, big impact

    Now, unfortunately this study is terribly small in scope with just 20 participants. Nevertheless, I think that it will have a big impact in the years to come. First off, it proves that resveratrol can help control inflammation in humans. And that's huge! Inflammation is the underlying, biological cause of so many different uncured diseases -- from rheumatoid arthritis to Alzheimer's disease. Plus, it just builds more momentum for this superstar antioxidant. It will be interesting to see if one day scientists prove that resveratrol can extend your lifespan, as they proved with mice a few years back. So if you're not already taking something with resveratrol, now's definitely the time start! (Especially if you're over 50 or have an inflammatory disease.) And yes, you'll find resveratrol in red wine and grapes. But you'd have to drink gallons of wine (or eat bushels of grapes) to get 100 mg of resveratrol. That's the amount you'll find in any quality resveratrol supplement. Most of these are derived from the Japanese knotweed herb. So take action now to keep feeling and looking young.
  8. Reading the vitamin E bottle -- the right way

    Last week, in an article about the benefits of taking vitamin E, I sounded about as sharp as a bowling ball. I intended to give you some helpful hints in scouring the vitamin aisles. But a mistake occurred in the editing process and my directions didn't make much sense. In any case, here's what you should look for on the bottle, when buying vitamin E: Look for a gel capsule that contains 400 IU of 100 percent natural vitamin E with mixed tocopherols. This will provide will provide balanced antioxidant protection. At the very least, the bottle should say it contains d-alpha or D-alpha. Skip any bottle that says it contains Dl-alpha (note the different "Dl" prefix). This means it's a synthetic, cheap imitation of vitamin E.

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