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Oxidation: Loss of an electron
Reduction: Gain of an electron
Maintaining life can be viewed as the ability to resist oxidation. Oxygen is essential to life, but oxygen is like fire. It can be very damaging and needs to be controlled by antioxidants, known as “reducing” molecules. Balancing reduction and oxidation–or redox–is the fundamental challenge of life. They are profoundly linked and that we need both.
From the very moment of conception, life can be sparked by the unique redox environment created when a sperm fertilizes an egg. The sperm is extremely rich in proteins containing the mineral selenium, which is a potent reducing agent for glutathione, the most important antioxidant molecule in cells. The egg, on the other hand, is very rich in glutathione. Bring these two potent antioxidant strategies together, and you create an exceptionally reduced cell that can initiate life and promote development using the power of redox. That reducing power provides a metabolic spark as new life begins its journey, allowing the rapidly dividing cells to safely maintain a high rate of oxidation. The same metabolic challenge continues as the embryo develops.
The entire nervous system and the shaping of gene activity are profoundly influenced by this redox balance as well. Aging is essentially a process of gradual oxidation, and our health as we age depends on successfully quenching that oxidation. Finally, innumerable diseases are linked to high levels of oxidation and low levels of glutathione—from schizophrenia to major depression, autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and most chronic autoimmune and chronic inflammatory diseases.
Glutathione protects the cells from oxidative-stress-induced apoptosis and glutathione levels are magnesium dependent! Glutathione is a very important detoxifying agent, enabling the body to get rid of undesirable toxins and pollutants. It forms a soluble compound with the toxin that can then be excreted through the urine or the gut. The liver and kidneys contain high levels of glutathione as they have the greatest exposure to toxins. The lungs are also rich in glutathione partly for the same reason. Many cancer-producing chemicals, heavy metals, drug metabolites etc. are disposed of in this way.
Glutathione (glū'tə-thī'ōn') is a polypeptide, C10H17N3O6S, of glycine, cysteine, and glutamic acid.
Glutathione synthetase requires γ-glutamyl cysteine, glycine, ATP, and magnesium ions to form glutathione. In magnesium deficiency, the ss y-glutamyltranspeptidase is lowered. There is a direct relationship between cellular magnesium, GSH/GSSG ratios, and tissue glucose metabolism. Magnesium deficiency causes glutathione loss and this is unwelcome as the clouds of radiation are touching down across the northern hemisphere. Magnesium deficiency causes glutathione loss, which is not at all healthy because glutathione helps to defend the body against damage from cigarette smoking, exposure to radiation, cancer chemotherapy, and toxins such as alcohol and just about everything else.
According to Dr. Russell Blaylock, low magnesium is associated with dramatic increases in free radical generation as well as glutathione depletion and this is vital since glutathione is one of the few antioxidant molecules known to neutralize mercury. “For every molecule of pesticide that your body detoxifies, you throw away or use up forever a molecule of glutathione, magnesium and more,” says Dr. Sherry Rogers who goes on to say that, “Your body uses nutrients to make this glutathione and it uses up energy as well. Every time we detoxify a chemical, we use up, lose, throw away forever, a certain amount of nutrients.”
How do we make the critical antioxidant, glutathione? In a single word: cysteine. You can get cysteine from the diet, in meat, eggs, garlic, onions, red pepper, broccoli and other foods. Cells in the gut lining, aided by transporter molecules, will bring it into the body.
Both gluten (found in grains such as wheat) and casein (milk protein) can inhibit the uptake of cysteine. Both casein and gluten are broken down into certain peptides that are relatively stable. The protein casein is broken into casomorphins. The “morphins” are so named because, like morphine, they act on the opiate receptors. The most famous one, beta casomorphin 7 (BCM7), has seven amino acids. Recent research shows that BCM7 first stimulates the uptake of cysteine, but then inhibits it. However, the human BCM7 is markedly different than bovine BCM7 from the cow. The BCM7 from a cow inhibits cysteine at least twice as much as the BCM7 from a human mother.
Breastfeeding clearly regulates the redox system of newborns. A diet high in dairy from cows can promote a decrease in our antioxidant capacity, our ability to make enough glutathione. The peptide from sheep’s milk behaves more like human milk. Similarly, the protein in gluten is known as gliadin, and it also creates a seven amino acid peptide, like BCM7. We already know that gliadin can trigger celiac disease, and can lead to gluten intolerance and sensitivity. These problems reflect the ability of gluten peptides to inhibit cysteine uptake, contributing to chronic inflammation.
Your body can take homocysteine and convert it back to cysteine. Homocysteine is a metabolite of the essential amino acid methionine, and elevated levels have been associated with vascular disease. Homocysteine is created when methionine donates its methyl group to another molecule in a process known as methylation.
Methylation is a fundamental process of life which is intimately linked to redox status. In chemistry, a methyl group is a hydrocarbon molecule, or CH3. When a substance is methylated, it means that a CH3 molecule has been added to it. Methylation can regulate gene expression, protein function, even RNA metabolism. It can suppress viruses, even latent viruses or cancer viruses we are born with and can help us handle heavy metals. In the liver in particular, methylating a toxin helps change it to a form of the compound that can be more easily processed and excreted.
Methylation is an extremely broad and fundamental action that nature uses to regulate all kinds of processes. Epigenetic changes to gene expression occur because of environmental factors—by affecting how DNA unravels during development. Some changes can be permanent for the whole lifespan and can even be passed down as many as three generations. The environment, through the process of methylation, can be quite a profound influence. There are 150-200 methyl transferase enzymes, and each enzyme can methylate multiple targets. So you can imagine methylation as a spider’s web within each cell, branching out in many directions.
Methylation and glutathione are very tightly intertwined. There is a critical metabolic intersection—a fork in the road—where cells must decide to either make more glutathione, or support more methylation. The overall balance between these two options is crucial to health, and this occurs with homocysteine. When methionine gives away its methyl group, we’re left with homocysteine. And the body has to decide, should homocysteine be methylated, and go back into methionine, or should it be converted into cysteine, so that the body can make more of the antioxidant glutathione? This fundamental decision is made again and again by the body, and the overall balance is crucial to health. Too little glutathione and we will end up with free radical, oxidative damage. Not enough methylation, and many genes and viruses will not be properly regulated. Excess homocysteine, and the risk of vascular disease goes up.
Multiple factors impinge on the same system. The glutathione antioxidant system is a common target for so many different environmental toxins and infections. Every single one of them impinges on the glutathione system. It’s not that each molecule of mercury or lead picks off one glutathione molecule. It’s that in general, environmental assaults inhibit the enzymes that are responsible for keeping the glutathione in its reduced antioxidant state, where it can do its job. The potent ability of mercury to inhibit selenium-containing enzymes is a good example.
Some people sail through these stressors and remain healthy, while others stumble and fall. Though many molecules and nutrients are important, the active forms of vitamin B12 (adenosyl B12 and methyl B12) and the active form of folate (methylfolate) are essential to this process. Once you have the raw material to make glutathione or to methylate, you need cofactors like methylfolate and methylB12 to complete the process. If we don’t make enough of these active forms, we will not be able to smoothly and fluidly shift between methylation and glutathione.
Some people have genetic variations that render this process less functional. Even with a less functional genetic legacy, you might be fine if you are not stressed by the environment—in particular by chronic infections or toxic assaults. Stress brings out limitations in genes that otherwise are latent and not problematic. So proper testing to see if there is a functional deficiency, then supplementation with active forms can help. There is a test that measures levels of methylmalonic acid (MMA) in the urine; if the levels are high, you are not making enough of the two active forms of B12. Your serum B12 may be perfectly normal—you just aren’t converting enough of it to the active form.
We cannot make B12, also known as cobalamin. Bacteria make it for us, and since vegetables don’t carry those bacteria, vegans can be deficient in B12. B12 is such a precious material for the body that the B12 released from the protein food you eat is instantly bound right there in the GI tract and chaperoned to be carried to cells, transported inside and then processed into the two active forms. Nature knows this is a precious material for life, and a critical indicator of cellular oxidation status.
There are several natural forms of B12 which need to be converted into the active forms, adenosylB12 and methylB12. CyanoB12, the form in most vitamin supplements, is not active and is less useful than the active forms for treating deficiency states. Glutathione itself is needed for converting other forms of B12 to the active forms. Indeed, there is a type of cobalamin called glutathionylcobalamin that is an intermediate for making the active forms.
There are two enzymes in the human body that require active B12 as a cofactor. One is called methylmalonyl CoA mutase, and it needs adenosyl B12. It is an enzyme that is necessary for the mitochondria—the energy powerhouse of your cell—to function. The other enzyme that requires active B12 is the enzyme methionine synthase, which requires methyl B12.
Methyl B12 is constantly recycled. It donates its methyl group to homocysteine, which then turns into methionine. Once B12 is missing its methyl group, it needs to get a fresh one. And that’s where methylfolate comes in. Methylfolate is, in essence, a methyl donor for methionine synthase. That’s its job in life. It is the only molecule than can donate a methyl group to B12. Once it does that, the rest of the folate is available to go out and support all kinds of other reactions in the body that need plain folate.
When your level of methylB12 is low, homocysteine builds up and this can have adverse health effects. High homocysteine levels in the blood reflect low activity of the enzyme methionine synthase, and this has been linked to an increased risk of atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease. It is also well known that homocysteine levels are increased in Alzheimer’s disease, which suggests a role for impaired methylation in this neurodegenerative disorder. Low B12 levels are classically associated with pernicious anemia and with peripheral neuropathy.
Low levels of folate are also classically associated with anemia, heart disease, fetal abnormalities such as spina bifida, as well as neuropathies and these have been specifically linked to a deficiency in methylfolate. Recognition of the important role of methylfolate and vitamin B12 in supporting D4 dopamine receptor methylation links their deficiency to impaired attention such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). People with genetic polymorphisms in the enzyme that makes methylfolate are particularly vulnerable to a deficiency.
There has been some research showing that synthetic folic acid can build up when supplemented, and a few studies have suggested this may even be linked to cancer in high doses. A sound approach for any kind of supplementation is using interventions that are based on tests showing low levels.
In addition to vitamin B12 and methylfolate, there are several other nutritional supplements whose actions are critical for redox and methylation pathways. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxal-5-phosphate or P5P) is an essential cofactor for the two enzymes that sequentially convert homocysteine to cysteine, namely cystathionine-beta-synthase and cystathionine-gamma-lyase. Together these two B6-dependent enzymes comprise the transsulfuration pathway that promotes glutathione synthesis. The common supplement form of vitamin B6, pyridoxine, must be converted to the active form, and in some disorders, such as autism, this conversion is impaired, so the P5P form may be more effective. N-acetylcysteine (NAC) provides a supplementary source of cysteine. NAC can cross into the cell cytoplasm where the cysteine is released and allowed to promote glutathione synthesis. S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) is an active, methyl-donating derivative of the essential amino acid methionine, and during oxidative conditions its levels may be low, due to low methionine synthase activity. SAMe has shown particular benefit in treating depression.
These examples of the interrelationship between oxidation and methylation are just the tip of the redox iceberg. Nature has learned to harness the power of oxidation as a signaling mechanism to control cellular activity. When more antioxidant is made available, cells can safely undertake a higher level of metabolic activity.
Back when we were all in science class in grammar school, our teachers showed us the periodic table of elements. If we weren’t sleeping through that class, we learned that elements that were similar in nature and tightly coupled in many living systems, could often be found in the same column.
So it goes with oxygen, sulfur and selenium. These three elements share chemical properties and reactivity, and each one follows the previous one in a single column of the periodic table.
Oxygen is the fire of life itself and loves to grab electrons from other molecules. Unfortunately this causes oxidation, which must be quenched to avoid tissue damage. Sulfur, right under oxygen, is a little bit bigger in atomic size, and so its outer electrons are less tightly bound. Selenium is bigger still, and it holds electrons even less tightly than sulfur. This means that selenium is best at passing electrons and sulfur is second best, while oxygen holds on the strongest.
The ultimate sulfur molecule is glutathione, and its function in life is to combat oxidative stress. In reduced form it is a reservoir for electrons and the most potent antioxidant we make. Selenium, even larger than sulfur, is an ideal carrier for electrons. It picks them up easily but just as easily gets rid of them. This is the secret to life. You can use oxygen as an energy source as long as you control that fire with enough antioxidants. This column in the periodic table, with oxygen, sulfur and selenium, is the pathway where you get both the fire and the reducing equivalents (electrons) so necessary to keep that fire in check. In a sense, electrons are an electromagnetic glue that holds the molecules together. Oxidation pulls molecules apart. Free radicals and other active molecules are the actual precipitators of oxygen stress.
The bottom line is you must have enough selenium from the diet to combat oxidative stress. Some soils are famous for being extremely selenium-deficient and resulted in higher rates of hypothyroidism, goiter, cretinism, miscarriages, and extreme fatigue.
Generally, we get adequate levels of selenium from our diet. Unless we are genetically vulnerable to mercury toxicity. If we do not excrete mercury well, we may be in trouble. Mercury binds to a form of selenium called selenocysteine. It is the regular cysteine molecule, but the sulfur element has been replaced by selenium. The affinity of mercury for that molecule is 10 to the 45th power. Unfortunately, that is actually a million-fold higher affinity than for the glutathione that would normally bind to that molecule. Mercury can bind so tightly to selenoproteins that an adequate diet is not going to meet the body’s demands.
Mercury in vaccines and mercury in amalgams may have seriously impacted our health at large. Perhaps we should have thought about the fact that nothing in our body uses mercury. It is not used for a single reaction in our body. It’s unwanted, and anathema to maintaining a normal antioxidant status.
Individual variability is the defining factor in oxidative stress from metals like mercury. Not everybody suffers ill health from dental amalgams. The hard truth here is that we are complex systems. Perhaps most dangerous is when mercury gets into the neuronal cells in the developing brain. It has been reported that selenoprotein P in the brain can bind a hundred molecules of mercury, like a natural sponge, just to keep mercury away from the developing neurons and astrocytes. Once mercury is present in those cells, they will not develop normally, due to disrupted DNA methylation.
A selenium deficiency state can be evident as fatigue and impaired cognitive function, as well as thyroid dysfunction, while excess selenium intake can lead to a toxic syndrome “selenosis” that includes GI and liver dysfunction as well as neurological problems.
Phytochemicals are plant chemicals that are neither vitamins nor minerals; yet, they have health-enhancing effects: phytochemicals help protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease and dementia, and aid in the prevention of cataracts and macular degeneration. Many phytochemicals are antioxidants, including carotenoids, and flavonoids. Among the flavonoids, isoflavonoids in soy and other legumes have estrogen-like effects. Some phytochemicals, such as isothiocyanates in the cabbage family and organo sulfur compounds in garlic, block the carcinogenic action of chemical carcinogens by helping the body dispose of them.
Antioxidants are chemical substances that donate an electron to the free radical and convert it to a harmless molecule. Antioxidants intercept free radicals and protect cells from the oxidative damage that leads to aging and disease. Antioxidants prevent injury to blood vessel membranes, helping to optimize blood flow to the heart and brain, defend against cancer-causing DNA damage, and help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. Some antioxidants are made in our cells and include enzymes and the small molecules glutathione, uric acid, coenzyme Q-10 and lipoic acid. Other essential antioxidants such as vitamin C, E, and selenium must be obtained from our diet. Fruits, vegetables and grains are rich sources of antioxidant vitamins minerals and phytochemicals (botanicals).
Acetyl l-carnitine enhances energy production by facilitating the transport of fatty acids into the energy-producing units in the cells. It increases cellular respiration, membrane potential and cardiolipin levels. Acetyl l-carnitine improves energy production within brain cells and is considered a neuro-protective agent because of its antioxidant action and membrane stabilizing effects.
The amino acid carnosine is a natural antioxidant found in high concentrations in the brain, muscle tissue and the lens of the human eye. It is also known to be an antioxidant capable of protecting cell membranes and other cell structures. Carnosine inhibits glycosylation and cross-linking of proteins induced by reactive aldehydes, and is effective in reducing advanced glycation end-products (AGE) formation by competing with proteins for binding with the sugars. Many additional functions for carnosine are as immunomodulator, neurotransmitter, metal ion chelator, and wound healing agent. It was demonstrated that carnosine was effective in overcoming muscle fatigue, lowering blood pressure, reducing stress and hyperactivity and inducing sleep. Carnosine has a protective effect, preserving nerve cells from damage and death, making it a promising treatment for patients with stroke. Carnosine was also shown to be effective in the treatment of senile cataracts. Along with carnosine, lipoic acid has been shown to control the formation of AGE and reduce protein damage from glycation in both humans and animals.
Carotenoids are the fat-soluble colors in fruits and vegetables and are a family of more than 600 antioxidants. Beta carotene, which is rich in carrots and other yellow/orange vegetables and fruits, converts to vitamin-A when the body lacks enough of the vitamin. Alpha carotene is high in carrots and green beans, lycopene, high in tomatoes and leutein and zeaxanthin is high in spinach and other dark greens. Similar to vitamin E, carotenoids trap reactive oxygen species from sunlight, break free radical chain reactions and prevent oxidative damage. Consumption of fruits and vegetables that are high in beta-carotene has shown reduced risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke. There are over 600 known carotenoids besides beta and alpha. About 40 are found in the human diet, and not all of them turn into vitamin A. Lycopene is one that does not convert to vitamin A.
The carotenoid lycopene provides stronger antioxidant protection against certain types of free radicals, and may protect against certain types of cancer better than any nutrient presently known. Lycopene makes up about half the carotenes in human serum; yet, very little research has been done on it. Lycopene is what gives tomatoes, watermelons, grapefruits and papaya their red color. A pigment synthesized by some plants and animals to protect them from the sun, lycopene evolved as a weapon against certain free radicals. Humans get most of their lycopene from tomatoes--by far the richest source; yet, tomato products offer a more concentrated source of lycopene than the fresh fruit itself. Since lycopene is a nutrient that can stand the heat, cooked tomato products, such as tomato paste, provide more of it than fresh tomatoes.
Lycopene's cancer protection is in part due to its antioxidant protection. But some studies show that it may also modulate immunity, inhibit angiogenesis and affect hormones. Lycopene works better in combination with lutein, another carotenoid which if found mostly in spinach and corn. (associated with maintenance of the macula). Just as lutein is concentrated in the macula, lycopene is concentrated in certain organs. The prostate gland is one of these organs. Inadequate supplies of vitamin-C and sulfur molecules such as N-acetylcysteine can adversely affect Lycopene. Lycopene is carried in the blood by the low density lipoprotein molecule (LDL) that also carries cholesterol. Drugs that lower cholesterol can drastically interfere with the carotenes. The fake fat Olestra is another chemical that depletes the carotenoids and vitamin A. Other parts of the body besides the prostate that accumulate lycopene are the adrenal glands, liver, colon and testes. Aging reduces levels of lycopene in the blood. Lycopene appears to be protective against cancer of the digestive tract.
Co-Q10, coenzyme Q-10, or ubiquinone, is found in the cells' mitochondria, and has two known functions. Co-Q10 transports electrons in energy production and is also an antioxidant that protects against free radicals formed during metabolism. Co-Q10 decreases in some tissues, with age. The heart, brain and muscles, which are high in mitochondria, may be most affected by the falling levels of Co-Q10. Lipid peroxides--markers of oxidative stress--are reduced in the blood of Co-Q10 supplemented people and antioxidant vitamins-E and -C are increased.
Lipoic acid is needed for mitochondrial function and is also an antioxidant. It is made in our cells and participates as a co-factor in the conversion of carbohydrates to energy. As an antioxidant, lipoic acid is unusual because it is both water and fat soluble. It can eliminate free radicals in the water compartment of the cell, similar to vitamin C, and protect lipids against oxidation, similar to vitamin E. Alpha lipoic acid helps break down sugars so that energy can be produced from them through cellular respiration. Alpha lipoic acid plays a truly central role in antioxidant defense. It is an extraordinarily broad-spectrum antioxidant, able to quench a wide range of free radicals in both aqueous (water) and lipid (fat) domains. Moreover, it has the remarkable ability to recycle several other important antioxidants including vitamins C and E, glutathione and coenzyme Q-10, as well as itself! For these reasons, alpha lipoic acid is called the universal antioxidant. Lipoic acid is the only antioxidant that can boost the level of intracellular glutathione, a cellular antioxidant of tremendous importance.
Besides being the body's primary water-soluble antioxidant and a major detoxification agent, glutathione is essential for the functioning of the immune system. People with chronic illnesses such as AIDS, cancer and autoimmune diseases generally have very low levels of glutathione. White blood cells are particularly sensitive to changes in glutathione levels, and even subtle changes may have profound effects on the immune response. Extensive research on lipoic acid has shown several beneficial effects in the prevention and treatment of diabetes. Much of the beneficial effect of lipoic acid is attributed to its ability to increase glutathione, chelate metals (such as iron and copper), quench diverse free radicals, and recycle antioxidants.
Polyphenols are a broad family of naturally-occurring physiologically-active nutrients. They can be divided into four subgroups. The first group is called bioflavonoids. The next two groups are close cousins of bioflavonoids and are called anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins (OPCs). These are found primarily in the berry nectars. The last group is called xanthones. They are primarily found in Gentain and Chinese skullcap nectars.
People who consume more vegetables and fruit show significantly superior health compared to those eating the least, especially in regard to lower rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Now the reasons for this are emerging. While eating a wide variety of plant foods is highly recommended, due to the synergy of various phytochemicals, we are discovering that certain compounds are particularly valuable, with blueberries and bilberries at the top of the list. Spinach and kale contain the powerful carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as the sulfur-containing antioxidant, lipoic acid--nutrients that help protect us against macular degeneration and cataracts, and against cardiovascular disease and other aging-related disorders as well. Eating spinach, kale, and other green leafy vegetables at least twice a week is highly recommended. However, consuming half a cup or more of blueberries every day in addition to all the vegetables and fruit can double your antioxidant intake from food.
Frozen blueberries are fine when fresh or dehydrated ones are not available. Wild blueberries are more potent than the larger, sweeter cultivated blueberries, but even the cultivated blueberries are extremely effective against free radicals. European bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) and North American blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) are closely related; cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are also close cousins to blueberries. Scientists think that the antioxidant and general anti-aging benefits of the Vaccinium species berries come from the compounds that give them their deep pigmentation. These compounds are a class of flavonoids (phenolic compounds) called anthocyanins, and are excellent antioxidants in their own right.
Turmeric seed, the basis for prepared yellow mustard, is among the most powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant polyphenolic tonic. Turmeric seeds contain the poyphenol curcumin. The seeds were used for centuries in topical mustard plasters designed to support respiratory health and proved effective by exploiting its anti-inflammatory properties.
Red Grape Skin extract contains a mix of substances, some of which are found in grape seeds, and some in red wine. These substances include non-bioflavonoid polyphenols (derivatives of cinnamic and benzoic acid) and bioflavonoid polyphenols (quercetin, catechins, flavonols, and anthocyanidins). One of these ingredients, resveratrol, was found to have anti-platelet aggregating activity. Supplementation may prevent, or be helpful with, the following conditions: bruising (capillary fragility), Raynaud's syndrome, diabetes, varicose veins, heart disease (atherosclerosis & hypercholesterolemia), vision problems (including cataracts & glaucoma), inflammation (including bursitis & tendonitis), wound healing.
Flavonoids are phenolic compounds that give vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds, leaves, flowers, and bark their color. The flavonoids are found in many botanical nectars but especially in Chinese skullcap, gentain, cranberry and grape. Sometimes these complex flavonoids are referred to by an older term that seems to be regaining popularity, namely condensed tannins. It is these tannins that give flowers, vegetables and fruits hues that include deep red, purple, mauve, blue, all the way to the extremely dark blue of Northern European bilberries, which can appear practically, black. Thus, the redness of strawberries and raspberries and the blueness of blueberries are due to the same class of compounds. Elderberry, persimmon, tart red cherries (tartness indicates the presence of condensed tannins), red and purple grapes, beets, purple cabbage, and the peel of the purple eggplant contain anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins. So do many flowers--the very names of certain anthocyanins such as petunidine, malvidine, delphynidine, and peonidine indicate in which flowers these anthocyanins were first discovered. The anthocyanins in hydrangea have the interesting property of imparting mauve-pink color when the plant grows in acid soil and blue color in alkaline soil.
The red-mauve hues of autumn leaves are also due to these complex polyphenols. The stunning scarlets of October are the gift of anthocyanins. The astringent taste of wine and unripe fruit is also due to various condensed tannins. The names of some of the most important bioflavonoids are baicalin, myricetin and quercetin. They provide many health-promoting benefits. They act as histamine blockers for reducing allergy symptoms and help reduce inflammation associated with various forms of arthritis. Histamine creates the inflammation associated with asthma, allergies, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and ulcers. They also work as antioxidants by scavenging damaging particles in the body known as free radicals which are a natural part of the metabolic process that can damage cell membranes, interact with genetic material, speed the aging process and contribute to the development of heart disease and cancer. Quercetin--widely researched due to its powerful anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and cardio-protective properties, is chemically closely related to anthocyanins. Quercetin is present in wine, ginkgo, onions, apples, black tea and grapefruit. But berries appear to have something possibly even more potent in some ways than quercetin: a simple phenolic compound called ellagic acid, which provides natural chemoprevention.
Bioflavonoids, are considered important substances in cancer prevention as they have been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells in the breast, colon, prostate and lungs. Prunes lower the risk associated with estrogen-dependent cancers, including breast cancer. Blueberries show anticancer activity against cervical and breast cancer. Noni protects the skin against cancers. Berries have been shown to provide cancer protection by blocking tumor growth and preventing protein synthesis in tumor cells. They also work in cases of human myeloid leukemia, transforming cancerous cells into non-cancerous ones. Garlic contains bioflavonoids, an organo sulfur substance with antioxidant activity that has anti-carcinogenic properties and helps protect against cardiovascular disease. Ellagic acid, a powerful anti-carcinogen is also present in many kinds of berries, including blueberries and raspberries, as well as in cherries and pomegranates.
Inflammation is a risk factor in heart disease. It is especially damaging to collagen and connective tissues because in the long run, tissues begin to scar and become less elastic. Blood vessels in these tissues become inflexible and blood leaks into surrounding tissues. This vicious cycle continues and atherosclerosis results. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory bioflavonoids promote the health of your circulatory system by reducing platelet aggregation, strengthening vascular membranes and protecting cell membranes. They neutralize enzymes that destroy connective tissue. They strengthen capillary walls, microcapillaries and keep larger vessels flexible and obstructed. Their antioxidant capacity prevents oxidants from damaging connective tissue and they repair damaged proteins in the blood vessel walls, preventing further damage. Bioflavonoids help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis which is the plaque buildup in arteries that can lead to heart attack or stroke.
Oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs) can prevent damage caused by atherosclerosis and unhealthy lifestyles. They inhibit platelet aggregation four times better than aspirin in smokers. They also prevent damage from blood clots, or ischemic reperfusion injury, as well as from venous insufficiency. Anthocyanins are powerful atherosclerosis fighters, they prevent the damaging oxidation of low density lipoproteins or LDL (bad) cholesterol, which is often the source of inflammation, thickening of arteries and clotting mechanisms, all of which lead to heart disease. They help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and reduce the risk factors from heart disease that can lead to death. Prune nectar has been shown to promote healthy cholesterol levels, particularly high density lipoproteins or HDL (good) cholesterol in both menopausal and post-menopausal women, compensating in part for the reduction of estrogen levels and helping to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system. Elderberry has been found to be particularly helpful in minimizing endothelial cell damage and in dilating coronary blood vessels to maintain healthy blood flow. The OPCs in red wine may help explain the French Paradox, where the heart disease rate is one third lower than in America in certain French provinces known for consuming high-fat foods and red wine.
Green tea contains mainly catechins, which are relatively simple phenolic compounds. "Simple" doesn't mean that they are less beneficial. Black tea and many fruits and vegetables contain mainly complex polyphenols, also called polymeric polyphenols, or condensed tannins. Both simple and complex polyphenols, often present side by side, have been found to have a wide range of health benefits. Catechins are found not only in green tea, but also in red wine and dark chocolate (cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate are good sources; "white chocolate" does not contain polyphenols). Likewise, coffee contains caffeine (an alkaloid; by the way, caffeine is also a strong antioxidant), as well as catechins, as well as simple phenolic acids, such as chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, and tannic acid. This can explain the well-established effectiveness of coffee in decreasing iron levels, or fighting bacterial and viral overgrowths.
Tannins are very common in the plant world. Apart from the sources already mentioned, they are also found in the bark of various trees--the best-known bark extract, Pycnogenol, comes from the bark of the French Maritime Pine, Pinus maritime. The wide distribution of tannins in the plant kingdom is probably related both to their antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. The presence of tannins in wood, for instance, is a key reason for the durability of wood. The fact that chocolate doesn't spoil in spite of its high fat content is also due to these fascinating polyphenols. Also, in spite of containing sugar, chocolate, like tea and other flavonoid-rich foods, appears to help prevent cavities. There is emerging evidence that thanks to their antimicrobial action, flavonoids can help prevent dental decay and oral diseases. Bioflavonoids work synergistically with other antioxidants. Bioflavonoids working with Vitamin-C support healthy skin, blood vessels and collagen. Vitamin-C is actually recycled and can be reused by the body when bioflavonoids are present. Conversely, bioflavonoids reduce inflammation more effectively when they interact with bromelain (found in noni fruit and pineapple) and other digestive enzymes.
Bioflavonoids are antioxidants that battle and neutralize a wide variety of free radicals including nitric oxide, the hydroxyl radical (HORAC), singlet oxygen, the super-oxide radical, and the super-potent combination of superoxide and nitric oxide called the peroxynitrate radical. Bioflavonoids help to regulate nitric oxide levels and keep them from becoming excessive. Free radicals like nitric oxide cannot be totally eliminated for they have a good side as well as a bad one. Free radicals react with just about every part of your body including proteins, fats, brain cells, collagen, connective tissue, blood vessels, immune cells and DNA. Free radical reactions produce oxidative stress which if left unchecked can result in greater susceptibility to disease, premature aging, heart disease, chronic inflammations in a variety of organs and tissues, arthritis, asthma, diabetes and stroke.
Bioflavonoids are also potent anti-inflammatory tonics. Cyclooxygenase (COX) is an enzyme that produces substances called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins have dual personalities. In one form, the protect tissues, but in another, they inflame them. Baicalin, quercetin and myricetin are now being recognized as powerful COX-2 inhibitors, in many cases working as well as the well known class of drugs called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). A COX-2 inhibitor is a substance that inhibits the enzyme cyclooxygenase-2. COX-2 inhibitors are found in nature in a variety of pain-relieving botanical tonics and have also been manufactured synthetically. Two popular drug versions are called Vioxx and Celebrex. One of the COX enzymes, COX-1, helps support healthy stomach function and protects the lining of the intestine. It also promotes healthy kidney and blood platelet function. Another important COX enzyme, COX-2, is not present to any great extent in healthy tissues, but when cells are damaged it is manufactured in situ, at the site of injury, triggering localized inflammation and pain signaling the brain that tissues are damaged.
Aspirin, Tylenol and ibuprofen are non-selective COX inhibitors. They inhibit both COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes in your body. Since many of the COX-1 effects are beneficial, inhibiting this enzyme is an unwanted side effect of many pain relievers. The most common is a greater susceptibility to stomach bleeding. Bioflavonoids have no such side effects since they leave the COX-1 pathway alone and only inhibit COX-2 prostaglandin production. Blocking COX-2 enzymes allows your immune function work better, makes your joints hurt less, restores healthy cytokine balance and white blood cell activity, protects macrophages from free radical damage, slowing their production of caustic nitric oxide, and your helps the cardiovascular system pump efficiently. It helps to recycle vitamin C and vitamin E, giving a boost to your immune system. Chinese skullcap is a rich source of COX-2 inhibiting bioflavonoids. Baicalin, its primary bioflavonoid, has proven of equal potency when tested in head-to-head trials with Celebrex.
Bioflavonoids in general are amazingly bioactive with a wide range of benefits. Like many other powerful antioxidants, they show a biphasic action, depending on the dose. Lower doses, available from diet and supplements act as antioxidants and raise the levels of reduced glutathione and vitamin C. Negative effects such as pro-oxidant action and glutathione depletion become an issue only if huge megadoses are taken over a longer period of time. But, you can't overdose on the amount you'd get in blueberries. A lot of the benefits of phenolic compounds stem from their antioxidant properties. Flavonoids also enter the body's antioxidant network, boosting the levels of vitamin-C and of our chief endogenous antioxidant, glutathione. Higher levels of ascorbates and glutathione mean better recycling of other antioxidant compounds, including, estrogens, to their reduced (antioxidant) form so that these substances do not produce damage.
Anthocyanins have some of the strongest medicinal effects of any plant compounds. Physiologically, they are powerful antioxidants used as viable therapies that support eye and heart health. Some anthocyanins have been shown to be four times as powerful as vitamin E. The berry nectars including grapes (vitis vinifera var), bilberries, and blueberries (vaccinium myrtillus), elderberries (sambucus cerulean), cranberries (vaccinium macrocarpon) and prunes (prunus domestica) are some of the richest sources of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are most stable in low, acid Ph's. However, these berries have a powerful alkalinizing effect from their minerals and polyphenols. The ultimate test of a nutrient's effect of body pH is the pH of its ash, and when the nectars of these anthocyanin-rich foods are heated to ash, the pH is quite alkaline. Red cabbage, egg plant and apples (malva pumila) are some common foods that contain anthocyanins. An easy way to identify them in your refrigerator is to notice which fruits and vegetables do not spoil quickly. Bilberry nectar is a rich source of anthocyanins. It is also a rich botanical source of iron, magnesium, potassium and copper. It was used as early as the Middle Ages to induce menstruation and as recently as World War II to improve pilots' night vision.
One study showed that anthocyanins have the strongest antioxidant power in the polyphenol family. The study found that the darker a berry's color, the greater its antioxidant power. The amount of anthocyanins varied for different varieties of the same berry and increased in those grown in low or high latitudes. Anthocyanins also have anti-inflammatory properties. They support healthy brain function, the peripheral nervous system, the skin and collagen. Anthocyanins also provide nutritional support for diabetics. They are hypoglycemic agents which lower blood sugar levels and protect both large blood vessels and capillaries from oxidative damage. They prevent oxidative damage in the capillaries of the eye and extremities, the two most common complications of diabetes.
Diabetes is a disease of oxidative stress. The reason diabetics are sensitive to sugar in their food supply is because they cannot balance their sugar metabolism. Sugar is an oxidant and diabetics have too much of it circulating in their blood. Therefore, sugar is a source of oxidative stress. Diabetics deal poorly with blood sugar-induced oxidative stress and are taught to avoid ingesting it. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities of anthocyanins have been proven useful in the fight against high blood sugar. Micro-blood vessel damage from high blood sugar levels causes most of the complications in diabetes. Collagen proteins become linked with sugars, resulting in scarring and blood vessel blockage. Anthocyanins protect fragile tissues from this type of vascular damage. Blood vessel damage can allow large blood-borne molecules to migrate out of the bloodstream and between the cells of surrounding tissues, causing edema and chronic inflammation of the soft tissues of the body. This situation is often painful to diabetics. OPCs promote normal capillary and lymphatic reuptake of metabolic and other blood-borne matter. Retinopathy occurs when the retina scars in its attempt to repair leaking capillaries by plugging the leaks with abnormal proteins. Anthocyanins not only prevent capillaries from leaking in the first place, but they also help clean up the mess when they do.
Proanthocyanidins are another family of polyphenols that chemists call condensed tannins or oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs). OPCs offer antioxidant protection specifically against heart disease and cancer, two major risk factors for death. OPCs owe their current popularity to French scientists that were successful in finding uses for the waste produced by the paper pulp and winemaking industries. These scientists studied Maritime Pine bark and grape seeds and found that the OPCs they contained were perfect nutrients to build and maintain high energy levels. Some of the richest sources of OPCs are the nectars of grapes, bilberry, blueberry, cranberry, elderberry, prunes and apples. Grape nectar has the richest source of OPCs of all the botanicals in their seeds and peels. OPCs are important antioxidants by themselves. Grape OPCs have been shown to protect many different types of body tissues better than vitamin-C, vitamin-E or beta-carotene.
OPCs are also synergists that enhance the effects of other antioxidants. Grape OPCs in particular show this antioxidant recycling and potentiating ability. The cell membrane protecting ability of vitamin-E is improved in the presence of grape OPCs. OPCs can protect our cellular tissues from premature aging with special emphasis on protecting the cardiovascular system. OPCs have also been shown to be effective against several cancer-causing agents. Grape OPCs are more effective at positively affecting the response of human mouth cells to the free-radical damage caused by smokeless tobacco than either vitamin-C or vitamin-E alone or even when both of these vitamins are combined.
Xanthones are close cousins to the polyphenol family and have strong antioxidant effects on the nervous system. They are found in several botanical tonics including St. Johns wort, and mangosteen, but the richest source of xanthones is gentian root nectar. The xanthones in gentian root include genistein, gentisin and several methoxyxanthones. Xanthones are among the bitterest compounds known. However, their mood-enhancing properties invoke some of the most agreeable, delightful feelings known. This is of great benefit to those who suffer from depression and obesity, acting to reduce appetites and obsessions. Gentain is known to delay stomach emptying and to trigger the release of cholecystokinin (CCK). This action then produces a series of hormonal reactions that result in satiety, a feeling of fullness and well-being triggered by dopamine release in the pleasure centers of the brain. Besides mood enhancement, xanthones are also useful in treating metabolic syndrome X, type-2 diabetes, lowering blood sugar and reducing insulin resistance. Xanthones have a common healing heritage with polyphenols, being both antiviral and anti-inflammatory.
There are over 40 different varieties of the Goji
Goji berries, sometimes called Wolfberries, are perhaps the most nutritionally-rich fruit on the planet. Goji Berries contain 4 special polysaccharides which fortify your immune system and are responsible for controlling your body's most important defense systems. Scientists attribute most of goji's amazing health properties to these special polysaccharides.
Goji berries contain 19 kinds of amino acids (on par with bee pollen) and contain all 8 essential amino acids. Goji berries contain up to 21 trace minerals (the main ones being zinc, iron, copper, calcium, germanium, selenium, and phosphorus).
Goji berries also contain vitamins B1, B2, B6, C and vitamin E, essential fatty acids, and betaine. Mature fruits contain about 11 mg of iron per 100 grams, beta-sisterol (an anti-inflammatory agent), linoleic acid (a fatty acid), sesquiterpenoids (cyperone, solavetivone), tetraterpenoids (zeaxanthin, physalin), and betaine (0.1%).
Goji Berries contain complete spectrum of antioxidant carotenoids, including beta-carotene (better source of beta-carotene than carrots!) and zeaxanthin (supports the eyes). Goji berries contain polysaccharides which fortify the immune system. A polysaccharide found in this fruit has been found to be an anti-aging secretagogue.
The Tibetan Goji
Goji berries have been traditionally regarded as a longevity, strength-building, and potency food of the highest order. In several study groups with elderly people the berry was given once a day for 3 weeks, many beneficial results were experienced and 67% of the patients T cell transformation functions tripled and the activity of the patients white cell interleukin-2 doubled. In addition, the results showed that all the patients spirit and optimism increased significantly, appetite improved in 95% of the patients and 95% of the patients slept better.
The famed Li Qing Yuen, who apparently lived to the age of 252 years (1678-1930), consumed Goji berries daily. The life of Li Qing Yuen is the most well-documented case of extreme longevity known. These Goji berries grow in protected valleys in million year old soil in wild and cultivated areas. The plants grow like bushes with vines that reach over 15 feet. The berries are never touched by hand as they will oxidize and turn black if touched while fresh. They are shaken onto mats, and then dried in the shade. The Goji berry is a deep-red, dried fruit about the same size as a raisin. The Goji berry tastes somewhat like a cross between a cranberry and a cherry.
A good daily intake of Goji berries is 10-30 grams (a small handful). Goji berries may be used as snacks or mixed with recipes or smoothies like other dried fruits.
Acai (ah-SAH’-ee), is a Brazilian berry that contains antioxidants that destroyed cultured human cancer cells in a recent University of Florida study, one of the first to investigate the fruit’s purported benefits. The rainforests are extraordinarily rich in biodiversity, and this of course includes medicinal plants. It is no accident that approximately 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest plants. Harvested in the rainforests of
Published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry of January 2006, the study showed extracts from acai berries triggered a self-destruct response in up to 86 percent of leukemia cells tested. Acai berries are already considered one of the richest fruit sources of antioxidants, This study was an important step toward learning what people may gain from using beverages, dietary supplements or other products made with the berries.
Compounds that show good activity against cancer cells in a model system are most likely to have beneficial effects in our bodies. Other fruits, including grapes, guavas and mangoes, contain antioxidants shown to kill cancer cells in similar studies. Another UF study, slated to conclude in 2006, will investigate the effects of acai’s antioxidants on healthy human subjects. The study will determine how well the compounds are absorbed into the blood, and how they may affect blood pressure, cholesterol levels and related health indicators. So far, only fundamental research has been done on acai berries, which contain at least 50 to 75 as-yet unidentified compounds.
One reason so little is known about acai berries is that they’re perishable and are traditionally used immediately after picking. Products made with processed acai berries have only been available for about five years, so researchers in many parts of the world have had little or no opportunity to study them. UF is one of the first institutions outside
Acai berries are produced by a palm tree known scientifically as Euterpe oleracea, common in floodplain areas of the
We are just beginning to understand the complexity of the acai berry and its health-promoting effects. In the current UF study, six different chemical extracts were made from acai fruit pulp, and each extract was prepared in seven concentrations. Four of the extracts were shown to kill significant numbers of leukemia cells when applied for 24 hours. Depending on the extract and concentration, anywhere from about 35 percent to 86 percent of the cells died. The UF study demonstrates that research on foods not commonly consumed in the
Açaí pulp contains:
*A remarkable concentration of antioxidants that help combat premature aging, with 10 times more antioxidants than red grapes and 10 to 30 times the anthocyanins of red wine.
*A synergy of monounsaturated (healthy) fats, dietary fiber and phytosterols to help promote cardiovascular and digestive health.
*An almost perfect essential amino acid complex in conjunction with valuable trace minerals, vital to proper muscle contraction and regeneration.
The fatty acid content in açaí resembles that of olive oil, and is rich in monounsaturated oleic acid. Oleic acid is important for a number of reasons. It helps omega-3 fish oils penetrate the cell membrane; together they help make cell membranes suppler. By keeping the cell membrane supple, all hormones, neurotransmitter and insulin receptors function more efficiently. This is particularly important because high insulin levels create an inflammatory state, and inflammation causes aging.
Up to now, the belief has been that the decline in brain function, both the cognitive and motor aspects, is inevitable and irreversible. Now, more and more evidence points the opposite way. An impaired sense of balance is one of the telltale signs of aging. For instance, a young person can usually stand on one leg, even with eyes closed, much longer than an older person, who begins to sway and quickly needs to put down the raised leg in order to prevent a fall. The elderly are also notorious for falling down for no apparent reason. We maintain our posture by automatically correcting against swaying motion; when the conduction of neural signals slows down with aging, we easily lose our balance. Daily doses of blueberries are the only treatment known that can reverse the deterioration of motor function with aging. The phytochemicals in the blueberry extract appear to speed up neural communication. Neither vitamin-E, spinach extract, nor strawberry extract, produce the rejuvenating effects on the motor function that blueberries do. We know that certain hormones have a profound impact on brain function. In terms of motor function, coordination has been shown to improve when the levels of estradiol and progesterone are high. Likewise, post-menopausal women have shown to have faster reaction time and improved manual dexterity when put on natural hormone replacement.
The eyes know flavonoids and other compounds found in berries and spinach for their benefits. However, an improvement in memory and cognition in general is also likely to be involved. This is to be expected when the levels of neurotransmitters, which typically decline with advancing age, are raised through a powerful antioxidant intervention. It has also been found that phytochemicals contained in blueberry, strawberry and spinach extracts prevent cell death and the loss of nerve growth factors. Blueberry-supplemented neurons have a better ability to communicate with each other. Mechanisms other than the antioxidant protection may be involved here, mainly an increase in membrane fluidity and lower levels of inflammatory compounds. Another important property of flavonoids is their ability to raise the levels of glutathione. Glutathione is the most important neuro-protector, being not only our primary antioxidant defense, but also an effective suppressor of chronic inflammation, known to be a significant factor in all the major diseases related to aging. Victims of Parkinsonism show low levels of glutathione in brain tissue. Compounds that raise glutathione, such as lipoic acid, NAC, and the potent phenolics found in berries, cherries and walnuts, help prevent the development of Alzheimer's disease and Parkinsonism, two of the most feared and disabling degenerative disorders of old age. It appears that blueberry supplementation may be effective in reversing the deleterious effects of aging on calcium homeostasis.
One interesting property of polyphenols is their ability to modulate the production of nitric oxide. In correct amounts, nitric oxide is extremely useful. In excess, it is neurotoxic. Phenolic compounds seem particularly effective in keeping nitric oxide within the correct range, thus improving circulation and reducing free-radical damage from nitrogen peroxides. Flavonoids also tend to lower blood sugar, and thus, glycation. An extract of blueberry leaves has been a traditional folk remedy against diabetes. Glycation and its toxic end product, known as AGEs (advanced glycation end products), are regarded as one of the important factors in the development and progression of brain diseases such as Alzheimer's disease. In addition, bilberry extract has been shown to enhance the blood-brain barrier, which tends to become impaired with aging, showing a decrease in vascular density, increased permeability and other abnormalities. The normal functioning of blood-brain barrier is important not only for keeping out toxins and undesirable compounds, but also for glucose transport to the brain. Anthocyanins and related compounds are able to decrease capillary permeability (possibly by stabilizing membrane phospholipids). If the blood-brain barrier becomes damaged and too permeable, the flavonoids anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins in blueberries, bilberry extract and grape seed extract (or red wine and purple grape juice) help restore normal permeability and repair the age related damage to the neurons.
It has been known for a long time that dopamine is an energizing, stimulatory neurotransmitter. Either an increase or decrease in energy output by brain cells produces a far-reaching cascade of events. By increasing brain energy production, dopamine exerts an extremely important anti-aging effect, since maintaining youthful brain function is a key factor in longevity. Blueberries allow the body a greater ability to release dopamine. Several nutrients that increase dopamine (and thus also growth hormone) have been shown to increase the average life span. Lowered dopamine activity leads to a decrease in neural glucose metabolism, which results in less energy production in the brain. This decrease in energy output was found to be regional, affecting the frontal lobes and the anterior cingulate gyrus. When a decrease in metabolism leads to an energy shortage, cells cannot function properly. Hence the observed cognitive deterioration related to lower activity in the frontal lobes, an area involved with thinking, learning, memory and the ability to coordinate multiple tasks. The cingulate gyrus plays an important role in governing attention span, the ability to focus, mood and impulse control.
Research has shown that we tend to lose dopamine D2 receptors at the rate of about 6% per decade. This is considered a significant decline, particularly in the light of the enormous importance of dopamine, our "reward" neurotransmitter, known to be related to pleasure, motivation, zest for life, ambition and sex drive, as well as to motor function. Dopamine increases brain metabolism regardless of age. Lower availability of dopamine in critical brain regions results in cognitive deterioration, less ability to concentrate, and a tendency toward depression. When the brain activity of a relatively young person is slowed down as if due to premature brain aging, this is a grim predictor of susceptibility to serious degenerative disorders. The correlation between depression and higher morbidity and mortality is well established. Dopamine also stimulates the pituitary gland to release growth hormone, which may be an important part of its anti-aging benefits. Dopamine also is involved in lowering insulin levels (insulin rises with aging), and in improving the immune response. The production of dopamine is known to decrease with aging, perhaps due to the oxidative damage to cells that synthesize dopamine. We also lose dopamine receptors as we age, which intensifies the problem. Blueberries show an increased ability to release dopamine in certain types of brain cells. Spinach, strawberries or vitamin-E do not show this ability. Blueberries show a significant reversal in motor dysfunction that correlates with aging and dopamine deficiency.
Oxidative stress and free radical damage is the greatest factor contributing to the development of certain eye disorders including cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Cataracts lead to lens damage, cloudy vision and may result in blindness. AMD is caused by leaky capillaries at the center or macula of the retina and is a leading cause of blindness. Polyphenols check oxidative stress and can play a role in the prevention and treatment of these eye conditions. Resveratrol from grape nectar offers protection against the development and progression of both cataracts and AMD. Bilberry flavonoids have been used for nearly a century to improve night vision and protect the retina by increasing microcirculation and enhance the production of rhodopsin, also called the visual purple. Rhodopsin is a protein necessary for near vision. Exposure to light, particularly bright daylight, high-contrast lights or even computer screens deplete rhodopsin, resulting in poor night vision. A sufficient dose of bilberry anthocyanins leads to an increase in rhodopsin.
Bilberry supports and protects collagen structures in the blood vessels of the eyes, assuring strong, healthy capillaries that carry vital nutrients to eye muscles and nerves, making striking improvement to night vision possible just a few hours after a single dose. Chinese medicine recommends raspberries for vision improvement. Raspberries contain many of the same flavonoids as blueberries and bilberries. Also, glutathione--in addition to being the primary antioxidant, detoxifier, anti-inflammatory and possibly the key anti-aging compound--is present in especially high levels in the lens of the eye. Studies have shown success in halting cataract progression using bilberry extract and vitamin-E. Other studies have shown improved vision in nearsighted subjects. A German study using a combination of vitamin-E and anthocyanins found either a stabilization of myopia or an actual improvement in visual acuity in the majority of patients, whereas, the control group showed further deterioration. A group of naturally occurring flavonoids either arrest or even reverse the progression of myopia.
Retinopathy occurs when the retina scars in its attempt to repair leaking capillaries by plugging the leaks with abnormal proteins. Anthocyanins not only prevent capillaries from leaking in the first place, but they also help clean up the mess when they do. Catechins, anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins inhibit the growth of abnormal blood vessels. This happens to be one of the mechanisms through which phenolic compounds can inhibit the growth and spread of tumors. It also applies to the growth of abnormal blood vessels involved in the "wet," or advanced macular degeneration. However, the greatest challenge to good eye health is elevated blood glucose. You do not need a diagnosis of diabetes to suffer some degree of damage to the tiny blood vessels of the retina (micro vascular damage) due to the destructive action of glucose. Serum glucose levels typically rise with age. Apart from a low-carbohydrate diet combined with exercise, polyphenols lower blood sugar.
Ginkgo too provides benefits for the retina, thanks to its antioxidant properties, its ability to raise glutathione levels and its enhancement of the blood-retinal barrier. Various potent flavonoids have similar effects, whether on the brain, eyesight or the vascular system. Vegetables and/or supplements containing lutein and zeaxanthin are also necessary if you wish to protect your vision against aging-related deterioration. Egg yolks are a rich source of lutein, as is spinach. Antioxidant hormones such as estrogens and DHEA may also be protective. Finally, the alkaloid vinpocetine (an extract of the lesser periwinkle, Vinca minor) is a new addition to the growing arsenal of compounds that help protect our eyesight. The omega-3 fatty acid known as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), richly present in fish oil, also appears to be important for protecting vision.