08-17-2018 Douglas Won, MD, Regenerative & Longevity Medicine Specialist
In the health and wellness area, there are a plethora of words that make us scratch our heads at times. It is hard to figure out what everything means and more importantly if it pertains to us. Today I want to share with you, a word that gets thrown around a lot when discussing health, “antioxidants”. Anti-oxidants should become some of your best friends if you are interested in pain management, cell health, and longevity. Let’s discuss what exactly antioxidants are, why we need them, and the top three anti-oxidants you need to take every day.
It all starts with a brief chemistry lesson. An atom is the smallest unit of life, and more than one atom create a molecule; our bodies are made up of large molecules like proteins and fatty acids. In our bodies in order to function, hundreds of chemical reactions are occurring, known as our metabolism. During metabolism molecules are broken down or built up. Stable molecules will have the correct amount of electrons, but if a molecule loses an electron at the wrong time, it creates a free radical. Free radicals are not stable, and are capable of causing damage to cells, proteins, and even DNA. When cells are damaged, illness, aging, and pain are symptoms. So here is where the antioxidants come in; these guys actually go to free radical molecules and donate the needed electrons to them before they can cause damage! If you think about it, antioxidants are like the man or woman at a festival with “FREE HUGS” written on their shirts or the volunteers handing out free meals to the homeless! They just want to serve and donate. They go around your body, repairing damage before it starts.
As mentioned above, antioxidants stop free radicals from damaging cells. But somewhat similar to the ratio of HDL (good) and LDL (bad) cholesterol, it is about balance. Our bodies actually need some free radicals and they are used in various pathways. When illness like cancer or heart disease, pain, and inflammation occur, it is because free radicals have far surpassed antioxidant levels. When free radicals outnumber the antioxidants your body goes into a state of oxidative stress. With this imbalance, can also come silent inflammation. Inflammation is your body’s natural immune response to injury or infection; but if your body is stressed from a poor diet lacking antioxidants, then inflammation can stay turned on and cause harm. Chronic oxidative stress and inflammation are the theories behind many chronic diseases. So now, let’s talk about how to achieve this balance. The paragraphs that follow will go over my top three recommended antioxidants to consume daily, along with a colorful whole food plant based diet.
Called by some health experts as the “Natural Remedy of the Century” this bright orange supplement has big shoes to fill. And it has been. This root herb actually has the ability to inhibit (turn off) the COX-2 enzyme, an enzyme in our bodies responsible for activating our inflammatory response. So instead of using a pharmaceutical pain reliever like Advil or Alieve, you can reach for an all-natural alternative. If you experience brain fogginess, aches and pains, or mood swings, these may be signs of systemic (spreading throughout) inflammation. Turmeric has been known in clinical trials to alleviate so many of these symptoms. Like many of you I am sure, I have aging parents. My mother just turned 60 and she has been troubled with severe back pain for quite some time. She finally told herself she was going to stop taking Ibuprofenevery day and try something else. We went through all her supplements, and decided to put Turmeric at the top of her list. This natural supplement has been shown to decrease levels of a key marker of inflammation, CRP. Turmeric boosts the regeneration of brain stem cells creating more youthful brain function. It has even been shown in a clinical trial to encourage the immune system to clean out unwanted protein debris in the brain that cause cognitive decline (big news for Alzheimer’s research). Further it has the power to decrease cholesterol oxidation which can lead to arterial clogs in the heart and blood vessel damage. Among the other benefits of this powerful antioxidant, it shows up as a joint pain reliever, effective at mood balancing, and has the potential to aid with proper digestion. Turmeric seems to be a preventative and regenerative supplement. Take it daily, along with black pepper extract and COQ10 for whole optimal benefit and effective absorption.
This uniquely flavored spice has been used in cooking and dishes for centuries but it also has some powerful medicinal qualities. As an expecting mother, I have reaped the benefits of ginger being an anti-nausea aid. But let’s not just stop at digestion! This pungent spice is a remarkable antioxidant. We learned before that cancer can occur due to damaged cells, but ginger contains a compound 6-gingerol that may be able to slow or even reverse cancer cell growth in prostate, pancreatic and ovarian cancers. More research needs to be done, but scientists seem positive about its anti-cancer benefits. Another great property of ginger is it regulates and reduces blood sugar levels, something people with diabetes need especially, but also something we can all benefit from, to keep us balanced and functioning properly. If that wasn’t enough, because ginger acts as an antioxidant and therefore an anti-inflammatory it has been applauded for its aid with menstruation discomfort, decreasing the pain and duration of symptoms. And if you ask me, instead of taking highly processed pharmaceutical drugs each cycle, I would much rather try out this all natural remedy! Ginger doesn’t stop there, for men and women this spice can drastically help with osteoarthritis. Arthritis can arise at any age, but of course the longer we put wear and tear on our bodies, the more likely our joints may suffer. Remember my 60 year old mom I mentioned? Well she works herself silly, with yard work and house work; she still insists on mowing her own lawn! And even though these activities are great for her overall health, they do take a toll on joints. We found a Turmeric supplement for her that also contains the ginger root extract with it. Ginger has been proven to reduce pain caused by common osteoarthritis. All together this all natural substance treats inflammation, assists with proper digestion, increases immune responses, reduces cholesterol, and like Turmeric stimulates brain function. Take this aromatic supplement daily to access its antioxidant power and see the benefits first hand.
The last, but certainly not least, super antioxidant I recommend consuming every day is Indian Gooseberry. My German grandmother (Oma), made a gooseberry pie for my father when he was courting my mother. He said it tasted awful (as a pie), but told her it was good, and so he was served a whole second piece! Now, if only my father knew about the amazing health benefits the Indian Gooseberry had to offer him, he probably would not have minded so much. I don’t recommend baking these strange looking berries, but consuming them in a tastier and more absorbable powder or capsule form instead. It is hard to know where to start with this special antioxidant, so I will begin from head to toe (or maybe about to your colon)! Indian Gooseberry also known as Amla, has been known to enhance and strengthen hair, and prevent hair thinning and balding. This is attributed to the gooseberries’rich carotene content, and again antioxidant (cell protecting) qualities. Men and women alike spend large amounts of money on skin and hair products to go on the outside of their bodies, but forget that it is what we are putting inside our bodies that really matters. This berry improves already-developed cataracts and decreases risk for macular degeneration. You only get one set of eyes in this life, and these vital organs are often taken for granted. Now on to our blood and bones; gooseberries support healthy immune function by increasing production of white blood cells, and supports strong bones by helping absorb calcium in the right ways. It also acts as a diuretic (increases urination) and helps flush out toxins in the body. As long as you are maintaining proper fluid intake daily, this flushing property promotes healthy kidney function and can prevent urinary tract infections. This green fruit also prevents heart diseases by strengthening the heart muscles and therefore increasing circulation of blood. It can reduce cholesterol buildup and therefore prevent atherosclerosis. The Indian Gooseberry has another property acting as a natural laxative to increase healthy bowel movements, and will help relieve diarrhea and dysentery if ever afflicted. Lastly a wonderful quality about this plant based supplement, is the quantity of iron it contains, which promotes the creation of red blood cells. Since the berry also contains a high amount of vitamin C, the iron is readily absorbed in our bodies and is a great supplement for people on a plant based diet, who choose not to consume animal based iron.
At the end of the day, I want you to know that pain, discomfort, memory loss, tooth decay, excess wrinkles, dry skin, and chronic disease, do not have to be symptoms of aging. We are in control of our bodies and can increase our longevity, manage pain and reduce chronic disease through the supplementation of antioxidants.