FREE RADICALS & ANTIOXIDANTS
Ten years ago I imported the first urine test that measures excess free radicals in the urine, and I went around giving talks trying to educate the doctors and the public on the role of free radicals and antioxidants in ageing and the evolution of many diseases. However many doctors were skeptical and at one private hospital I was ridiculed for believing that free radicals are responsible for so much of the damage in the body.
Now the scenario is different as that fact is well established and even the lay person knows about free radicals and antioxidants, thanks to the interest in health and the many articles available in various media and the internet.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that require electrons to re-stabilize. They steal the electrons from other molecules, making the latter unstable, causing a chain-reaction. If this happens to the molecules which make up the wall, DNA or other components of the cell, then these structures become damaged. Accumulated free radical damage will lead to abnormal functioning, accelerated ageing, cancer or cell death.
Antioxidants are molecules which readily provide electrons to free radicals, thus sparing precious cell components from damage. Although the antioxidants themselves become free radicals, these are weak or relatively harmless free radicals. The chain is broken when water- soluble antioxidants which have become free radicals are excreted by the body. Thus it is good that vitamin C, which is the most common antioxidant supplement consumed, is excreted through the urine ( about 50% of ingested vitamin C is removed every 3 hours ). That way the body can neutralize a lot of free radicals, provided fresh antioxidants are made available all the time.
THE ORAC SCORE
The measurement of an antioxidant’s power to neutralize free radical damage at the cellular level is known as the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity or ORAC score or value.
A sample of antioxidant in the form of food, drink, fruit, nutritional supplement, vitamin, or chemical substance (for example, orange juice, carrot, or vitamin C) is put in a test tube to see how well and how long it takes to destroy or neutralize a known quantity of free radicals.
The nutrient tested is then given an ORAC SCORE that reflects the power and speed with which it does its job as an antioxidant.
The Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University USA has established that 5000 ORAC units per day can prevent certain age-related diseases.
ORAC scores are given in units per liter, so when you are comparing the scores between different foods or nutrients, it must be between the same volume ( or for simplicity, even weight or amount ) of the substances being compared.
Below are the ORAC scores of some berries, and grapes, spinach and carrot for comparison.
|– Ningxia wolfberry
– Red grapes
THE CAROTENOID SCORE
One method of measuring antioxidants directly in the body is by using the Biophotoscan to measure the body’s carotenoid score. This measures the amount of carotenoids present, but not the other antioxidants. Carotenoids are the yellow-orange-red antioxidant pigments that are present in carrots, papaya, tomato, watermelon and many other fruits and veggies.
If you take a well-balanced diet consisting of a wide variety of fruits and veggies ( or a broad-spectrum supplement ), the carotenoid score can be used to estimate the adequacy of other antioxidants as well.
Although most antioxidants can be measured accurately through blood tests, this is not practical, and not even necessary.
OXIDATIVE STRESS & OXYSCORE
The most important score to know is one that tells you how much excess free radicals you have. Although taking high ORAC antioxidants is good insurance, and having a high carotenoid score is comforting, you are really healthy only if the antioxidants are sufficient to combat the free radicals lurking in you. Your free radical load may even be much higher than your high antioxidant score!
Everyday each cell is bombarded by over 10,000 free radicals. Our toxic environment adds so much more to that produced by our cell metabolism. Our immune cells produce free radicals and use them to fight bacteria. The free radical load in the body is so high that it is impossible for anyone not to have an excess of free radicals even after taking plenty of antioxidants. What separates the healthy from the unhealthy is how much excess free radicals.
The amount of excess free radicals can be accurately measured using the urine free radical test. The urine free radical score ( or Oxyscore ) is a reliable estimation of the excess free radicals that have damaged your cell walls.
SPECIFICITY OF ANTIOXIDANTS
While the ORAC score gives the free-radical scavenging power of the antioxidant nutrient when tested in the lab, it only indicates the potential when the nutrient is available at the proper site in the body. Different free radicals are neutralized by different antioxidants – and therefore the widest range of antioxidants must be present to protect the cells maximally.
Different antioxidants also have varying activity outside and inside the cell, and in different cell types. For example, different berries are beneficial for different cells/organs. So always get your antioxidants from a variety of fruits and veggies, or supplements containing a variety of them.
THE MYSTICAL BERRIES
Now let us discover the super foods with superb antioxidants – the mystical berries. Berries are the superstars of antioxidant-rich fruits. They contain special antioxidants called anthocyanins. They are also rich in vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals like ellagic acid, quercetin and catechins. Many studies have shown that berries have powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, anti-diabetic and anti-cancer properties. Acai berry, wolfberry and blueberry consistently top the list of antioxidant-rich foods studied. For a long time it was thought that blueberries had the highest antioxidant content among them, as only the berries common in Western countries were studied. Acai berries of the Amazon were found to be twice stronger. Now it is known that Chinese Ningxia wolfberries are ten times stronger! When these berries are studied in greater detail, more magical benefits will unfold.
Berries are a large family of mostly edible fruits. We are most familiar with blackberries, blueberries, bilberries, cranberries, elderberries, gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries and wolfberries, but there are many more ( alaska wildberries, aronia or chokeberries, lingonberries, boysenberries, to name a few ). Did you know that botanically, grapes and blackcurrants are also berries? No wonder they all look similar (except for the colour), and are equally nutritious. Grape seed and grape skin contain powerful antioxidants like anthocyanins and resveratrol.
The different berries not only vary in their colours and tastes, but also in the type of anthocyanins, and therefore in their health benefits. All berries have deep or dark colours, and it is well known that the phytochemicals which give these colours are potent health-enhancing nutrients as well. Berries have very high ORAC scores (see table above), and are qi-enhancing, especially when taken fresh.
Many scientific studies have now validated what was expected from their known nutrient contents. A study by the founding president of the American Society of Holistic Medicine on a concoction of seven different berries ( including Acai and wolfberry ) blended with grapes, pomegranate and green tea showed that consuming it for 2-3 weeks reduced free radicals in the body by 43%.
From known scientific data about free radicals, if that reduction is maintained long term, it is estimated that life span may be increased by 20 years!
In another study, the anti-cancer effects are so strong that rats injected with carcinogens and then fed a berry-rich diet had 80 per cent fewer cancers compared to those without berries in their diet (study done in Ohio State University, USA).
Acai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) berry is perhaps the crown jewel of the berries. I have mentioned it in a previous article (see www.superqigong.com/articles). It is consumed to improve circulation, increase energy and vitality, improve eyesight, and provide natural resistance to colds, flu, and disease. It is so vitalizing that it is called the “Fruit of Life”. Amazon legends accord it magical powers to enhance sexual desire.
It has ten times the antioxidant power of red grapes, thirty times that of red wine, and its seeds are also packed with antioxidants. It is rich in essential fatty acids, and has plenty of phytosterols which help to bring down bad cholesterol. It is also an excellent source of vitamins and fibre. Studies have shown it to be beneficial for the circulatory and digestive systems.
It is listed by the famous dermatologist Dr Nicholas Perricone as the top anti-aging superfood, and was even featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Bilberries have been proven to be protective and reparative to the eyes, and are now standard recommendation for improving eyesight, and also preventing age-related eye diseases. Bilberries, blueberries and wolfberries can act synergistically to protect the eyes and many other organs, including the cardiovascular system.
Blueberries have been used to improve mental functions. In fact, in animal studies, blueberry extracts have been shown to be able to make nerve cells grow and significantly improve learning, memory and coordination.
Cranberries have long been known to be especially beneficial for preventing and treating urinary infection. Nutrients from cranberries prevent bacteria from sticking to the wall of the urinary tract. Cranberry juice and even extracts ( in tablets or capsules ) have been prescribed by doctors and naturopaths alike for this purpose, especially for women, who are at least 10 times more prone to urinary infections compared to men, simply because of our different anatomies. During pregnancy, that risk increases another ten-fold.
Elderberries and all the other berries improve the immune and cardiovascular systems through their antioxidant power.
Raspberries and strawberries were shown to be effective against many types of cancer, in studies done on rats and mice in The Medical University of South Carolina. Raspberries have also been shown to improve vision, memory and motor skills. These studies also showed that taking the individual phytochemicals (as supplements) was not as effective as taking the fruits themselves. Therefore, for supplementation, go for whole food extracts that retain all the nutrients.
Wolfberries were among the secrets behind the longevity of the Himalayan people, as well as the north-western Chinese. And the best wolfberries are those from Ningxia autonomous region of China. I discovered this through my Qigong sifu ( who is from Ningxia, China ) who shared with me (about 15 years ago) how wolfberries were used by his people to stay young and also fight tumours. I didn’t pay much attention then. Later, my interest in antioxidants and cancer led me to information which confirmed that Ningxia wolfberries have very potent anti-aging and anti-cancer nutrients. They help the function of many organs. They have an ORAC score of 25,000 which is over 10 times that of blueberries. Ningxia wolfberry is my “secret weapon” for health, aesthetics, anti-aging and preventing cancers.
Several types of “berries”
( References available on request )