Grocery shelves are full of products with labels bragging that they contain antioxidants and implying that you’re just a few bites (and a few bucks) away from better health. But it’s not that simple. More is not necessarily better when it comes to antioxidants. And research has found that how you consume them can make a big difference in your health. To help distinguish the myths from the truth, here’s a close look at the latest on antioxidants.
MYTH: Antioxidants are all vitamins.
TRUTH: There are thousands of antioxidants, but relatively few of them are vitamins. Some are minerals and others are enzymes, which are protein molecules that facilitate chemical reactions necessary for cells to function properly.
What antioxidants have in common is their ability to block the action of free radicals, those unstable chemical fragments that can wreak havoc on healthy components in your body’s cells. This damage can cause cells to grow and reproduce abnormally, part of a dangerous chain reaction. In time, that process is thought to play a role in chronic conditions including cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and eye diseases such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Your body produces free radicals during exercise and when converting food into energy. And your body generates antioxidants to help stabilize them. Other factors — cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption and exposure to sunlight and such environmental contaminants as pesticides — trigger the production of more free radicals, which can potentially overwhelm your body’s natural defenses. Antioxidants in foods, especially fruits, vegetables and whole grains, can come to the rescue.
MYTH: All antioxidants are created equal.
TRUTH: Different antioxidants fight different free radicals, and they work well together. For example, Vitamin C recycles Vitamin E. Once a molecule of Vitamin E neutralizes a free radical, Vitamin C converts that molecule of E back to its antioxidant form, allowing it to combat more free radicals.
The synergistic effect among thousands of antioxidants is a major reason doctors, dietitians and other experts advise people to eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Even though scientists have yet to pinpoint all the ways those compounds protect against disease, many observational studies suggest that people who consume a greater amount of antioxidant-rich foods have a lower risk of certain diseases than people who don’t.
MYTH: Be sure to eat pomegranates, berries and other “super fruits.”
TRUTH: All fruits are “super.” Each type of fruit or vegetable has a unique combination of healthful compounds, including antioxidants. By eating only those billed as “super,” you shortchange your health by skipping those combinations of nutrients in other produce.
MYTH: You should amp up your intake with supplements.
TRUTH: Focus on food instead. Overall, clinical trials that have examined the disease-fighting capability of specific antioxidant nutrients in supplement form haven’t shown very promising results.
Talk with your physician about supplement use, because some studies have suggested that some can cause harm. Selenium supplements of 200 micrograms a day have been linked to a higher incidence of recurrence of non-melanoma skin cancers in people who previously suffered such a cancer.
MYTH: If some antioxidants are good, more are better.
TRUTH: Too much can be problematic, so beware of multi- and single-antioxidant capsules labeled “megadoses,” which contain more than the recommended daily values for antioxidants. Some evidence suggests that when taken in megadoses, antioxidants can become pro-oxidants, which increase the production of free radicals, especially in people who drink alcohol or smoke.
It’s much less likely that you’ll consume too many antioxidants from food. But eating one type of fruit or vegetable in excessive amounts can result in some odd, if harmless, effects. For example, consuming extremely large amounts of carrots or other vegetables rich in beta-carotene can result in orange-tinted skin.
MYTH: Packaged food with labels that promise antioxidant benefits will boost your health.
TRUTH: Antioxidant claims on packaged food don’t always mean a health benefit. Some food manufacturers add an antioxidant, such as Vitamin C or E, and then label the product as containing antioxidants, presumably in hopes of boosting sales.
Kellogg’s FiberPlus Antioxidants Dark Chocolate Almond bars, for example, have 20 percent of the daily value of Vitamin E and zinc. But they also contain seven grams of sugar and five grams of fat. You can avoid processed food and eat an ounce of dry-roasted almonds, which provides more Vitamin E, and three ounces of lean beef, which has more zinc.
Synthetic vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, kills beneficial probiotic bacteria in the gut and cannot confer vitamin activity in the body
Most people nowadays are well informed about the numerous health benefits of vitamin C, and find ways to incorporate it in their diets, either by taking supplements or eating more foods that contain the vitamin. While the many benefits of vitamin C are well-documented, such as its ability to boost the immune system, there are less well known facts about the synthetic version of vitamin C, or ascorbic acid. Ascorbic acid, the synthesized version of vitamin C, has been proven to kill bacteria effectively, which makes it effective in killing parasites and infections. Unfortunately, it does not differentiate between the good and bad bacteria in the gut, and wipes out good bacteria in the gut which is mandatory for vibrant health.
Ascorbic acid defined
Synthetic vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is not found in nature. It does not grow naturally in plants or trees and cannot be grown on a farm. It can only be made in a lab. Contrary to popular belief, ascorbic acid and vitamin C are not the same thing. Ascorbic acid is not a complete vitamin, but really only the outer layer of the complete complex known as vitamin C. The complete complex of vitamin C as found in natural food sources is composed of these elements:
– Rutinbiofavonoids (vitamin P) factor K
– Factor Jfactor P Tyrosinase
– Ascorbinogen ascorbic acid
All of the above elements must be present in order for the body to absorb and benefit from the vitamin complex. Since synthetic ascorbic acid does not contain the full complex, your body must either gather the missing components from the body’s reservoir, or simply eliminate the ascorbic acid from the body through the urine without benefit to the body.
You’ll find ascorbic acid in all sorts of products, from vitamin C supplements to bottled tea drinks and fruit juices such as apple juice. The straightforward method to confirm its presence in a product is to simply read the ingredient label. However, as founder of AGM foods in Brisbane, Australia Alan Meyer found out, many times ascorbic acid can be found in foods even though it’s not listed on the ingredient label.
The microbe-neutralizing properties of ascorbic acid and its source of origin
Mr. Meyer had been following a recipe to make a fermented apple drink. The recipe called for pure apple juice, so he bought a bottle of organic apple juice. After running some tests on his concoction, he found that the apple juice had killed the friendly microbes in it even though according to ingredient label on the bottle there was nothing in the juice but organic apples. He ran the process again to confirm that it wasn’t just a fluke and sure enough the microbes were destroyed once more. After calling the company he found out that they were indeed adding ascorbic acid to the juice as a preservative to kill off bacteria. Unfortunately, ascorbic acid doesn’t just kill harmful bacteria, but also kills beneficial bacteria. Ascorbic acid has the same effect in our bodies as it does in juice.
Ascorbic acid is synthesized from corn syrup. So not only do we need to be concerned with its impact on intestinal flora, but with its potentially disastrous GMO corn-based origins. These days, if you cannot verify that any corn-based food that you consume is certified organic, you risk ingesting GMO corn, the health risks of which are well-known by knowledgeable NaturalNews readers.
The real vitamin C solution
Naturally-occurring vitamin C is found in many fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C has the curious habit of breaking down when heated. This means that when food is heated, the vitamin breaks down and becomes useless. Since pasteurization is a form of heating (boiling to kill bacteria), any pasteurized beverage therefore becomes void of natural vitamin C complex. Ascorbic acid was therefore invented as a synthetic replacement of the natural form of vitamin C which is destroyed by heat. Unfortunately, ascorbic acid simply cannot replace the real, natural vitamin complex. Add to that the bacteria-neutralizing behavior of ascorbic acid which destroys health-critical beneficial microbes, and you have a substance which we’d all be better off to avoid as health-minded individuals.
So what is the solution to all this? The thing to do is avoid vitamin C supplements, pasteurized products, and pre-bottled teas and juices containing ascorbic acid. Get your vitamin C from natural, organic, uncooked fruits and vegetables. Some foods that contain the highest amounts of vitamin C are:
– Citrus fruits
– Acerola Cherry (fresh or powdered forms)
– Black Currant
– Bell Pepper
– Brussel Sprouts
– Kale, chard, and spinach
Again, remember to consume foods in their raw form. If heated, the natural vitamin C complex is destroyed.
While it is becoming universally understood that white flour lacks essential nutrients that the human body needs and even promotes disease, the public does not have an adequate understanding of whole grains. We are led to believe that whole grains are a perfectly healthy alternative to refined grains when, in fact, they also present a whole host of dangers to our health.
The modern production of grains
When grains were first introduced to the human diet, they were not prepared and consumed as they are today. Pre-industrialized societies fermented grains so that they were more easily digested and their vitamins and minerals could be better absorbed. Today, grains are sprayed with pesticides while they are growing and then are milled at high temperatures, which causes their fatty acids to spoil and become rancid. The milled flour becomes even more rancid when it’s stored for long periods of time. Preservatives, stabilizers and additives are added to flour and it becomes much less beneficial and even harmful to our health.
The preparation of grains is so critical because their antinutrients can cause health problems if they aren’t properly treated through fermentation or soaking. One of these antinutrients is phytic acid, which combines with magnesium, iron, copper, calcium and zinc in the intestinal tract when it’s left untreated. This prevents the body from being able to absorb these nutrients. Therefore, consuming large amounts of our modernly prepared whole grains can cause the body to become mineral deficient.
Enzyme inhibitors are another antinutrient that can irritate the pancreas and digestive system because they don’t allow the body to properly break down sugars and gluten. This causes allergies and other digestive and autoimmune disorders, such as celiac disease, Chron’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
The grain-less school of thought
Some health professionals believe that all grains, including whole grains, are not well tolerated by the human body and should be avoided completely. This has caused the emergence of the paleolithic diet, which resembles the diet of cavemen based on wild plants and animals. Before the development of agriculture, our ancestors did not have access to grains and some believe that the human body has not genetically adapted to a grain-based diet and that those who follow a “paleo diet” are less likely to contract diseases. While there are countless versions of the paleo diet, it commonly consists of fish, grass-fed pasture raised meat, eggs, roots, nuts, fruits and vegetables and cuts out grains, dairy and refined sugars.
Be smart about grain consumption
If you continue to consume grains, there are several things you can do to ensure that they will be better digested and more nutritious. If possible, buy organic whole grains and grind them yourself with a home grinder. If you’re short on time, look for organic stone ground, sour dough or sprouted whole grain products at the store. Also, grains are better digested when they are eaten with fat soluble vitamins A and D. Enjoy your grains with butter, cream or whole cheese to improve nutrient absorption.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that can slow aging and help grow hair. Research has shown that vitamin E can soften the red blood cells, which increases circulation by improving blood flow. Vitamin E comes in eight forms. Four are tocopherols and four are tocotrienoils. Most Americans’ diet is rich in gamma-tocopherols while the Europeans’ is high in alpha tocopherols. Adding nuts to the diet is a great way to get more vitamin E, as nuts contain high amounts of this valuable nutrient.
Vitamin E for increasing blood flow
Cell membranes become less flexible as we get older. When the red blood cells become stiff, they have a difficulty time getting through the small capillaries. The smallest capillaries are usually too small for the red blood cells to pass through without flexing, so when they become stiff, they can’t get through at all. This causes a decrease in circulation to the extremities, and into the organs.
Within five days of adding vitamin E as gamma-tocopherols, the cell lining of the blood vessels improved as reported in the Journal of Nutrtitional Biochemistry. The study also demonstrated that vitamin E reduced a marker of oxidative stress called or MDA. In the study, men were given 500 mg of gamma-tocopherol, 60 mg of alpha-tocopherol, 170 mg of delta tocopherol, and nine mg of beta-tocopherol.
Vitamin E increases brain function
Those with Alzheimer’s disease had lower levers of vitamin E and also showed damage from lack of vitamin E. This was noted by tracing the markers alph-tocopherylquinone, and 5-nitro-gamma-tocopherol. The research concluded that a low level of vitamin E in the blood was a precursor to Alzheimer’s and dementia. This study used only alpha-tocopherol, while noting that using only this form of vitamin E could lead to increased stroke risk. Supplements with only this type of alph-tocopherol may prevent absorption or bioavailability of other forms of the nutrient. The authors of the study suggest a balance of vitamin E forms to protect the nervous system.
Regrow hair with vitamin E
Vitamin E can also help regrow hair after hair loss. The nutrient stimulates the growth of capillaries on the scalp. Vitamin E capsules can be applied to the scalp or taken as supplements. To grow hair, it’s best to apply topically and take vitamin E internally. Good effects will also be seen on the skin from adding this fat soluble nutrient.
Vitamin E helps treat diabetes
Using 1,800 IE of vitamin E per day, diabetic patients showed improvement in both their kidney function and retinal blood flow. The use of vitamin E prevented diabetic neuropathy in those with Type I diabetes. The nutrient has no effect on blood sugar level, making it a good treatment for hyperglycemia.
Food sources of vitamin E
Vitamin E can be found in many foods. Eggs raised naturally are a good source, as are nuts. Sunflower seeds are a great source of vitamin E, containing over 36 mg per 100 grams. Almonds contain 26 mg per 100 grams, and pine nuts have nine grams. Olives add 3.8 grams per 1,000 grams, which is about the same as spinach. Add a little bit of paprika or red chili powder to increase the vitamin E content. Both spices have 30 mg per 100 gram serving, which is a bit more than two milligrams per teaspoon.
About the author:
Talya Dagan is a health advocate and health coach, trained in nutrition and gourmet health food cuisine, writing about natural remedies for disease and nutrition and herbal medicine.