Category Archives: Free Radicals
Movie Stars, Blockbuster Berries, and You
by Joel Marion and John Romaniello
One of the interesting things about working in a gym environment is that, even for the best trainers in the world, there’s a substantial amount of down time. Although program design, training clients, and personal workouts definitely keep us busy, like people in many professions, we have a few slow hours out of the day that, while they should be filled with productive activity, are somehow…not.
As a couple of print junkies, we generally waste time by reading anything that happens to be lying around. And in gyms, that means two things: health & fitness stuff, and trashy celebrity gossip magazines. While we’d like to say that the former occupies most of our time, it’d be a lie to say we haven’t developed quite a taste for the latter as well.
This mix of reading material has made for a few interesting observations. The first is that these genres seem to be blending. Specifically, you can’t seem to pick up Men’s Health without finding a celebrity on the cover, along with a promise to reveal the secrets that person used to get into shape for a role.
In the same vein, if you flip through Us Weekly, half of the pages are related to dieting and nutrition, beach bodies, and health secrets.
While this isn’t really revolutionary, it’s led us to a broader realization: as a society, we’re becoming more and more obsessed with both celebrities and health (at least in the superficial sense).
So what we’ve done here is take those two hot topics and create a fun way for you to learn a bit more about both of them. Specifically, we want to discuss the topic of anti-oxidants.
Okay, now that we have the introductory rant out of the way, time to start the show.
Exercise, Free Radicals, and Oxidative Stress
The area of greatest concern is what scientists call “cellular damage” and nutrition geeks term “oxidative stress.” Whichever moniker you choose, this nasty bit of business is the result of increases in free radical production.
So, just what is a free radical? Speaking scientifically, a free radical represents a highly chemically-reactive molecule or molecular fragment that contains at least one unpaired electron in its outer orbital or valence shell. In practical terms, a free radical is the crap resulting from all the chemistry that takes place in your body while you’re at the gym.
During exercise, most oxygen consumed by trainees combines with hydrogen to produce water; however, about 2-5% of this intake forms oxygen-containing free radicals, such as superoxide, hydrogen peroxide, and hydroxyl.
This exercise-induced free radical formation is the result of at least two causes, the first being an electron leak in the mitochondria, probably at the cytochrome level that produces superoxide radicals. The second is alterations in blood flow and oxygen supply, which also triggers excessive free radical generation. Once formed, free radicals interact with other compounds to create new free radical molecules.
So what does this all mean? Put bluntly, free radicals suck. Oxidative stress caused by free radicals ultimately increases the likelihood of cellular deterioration associated with advanced aging (read: wrinkles), cancer, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and a general decline in central nervous system and immune function.(1,2,3,4)
But your body is not without its armor. A natural defense to these compounds is present in the body’s antioxidant scavenger enzymes catalase, glutathione peroxidase, and superoxide dismutase, as well as certain metal-binding proteins.
Still, this mechanism is only so effective, making substantial increases in free radical production (such as those resulting from intense exercise) a threat to overloading the body’s natural defenses. When this happens, in addition to increasing the likelihood of cancer, you also step into counterproductive territory. Excess free radicals have also been shown to increase cortisol, hindering both fat loss and muscle gain.
What to Do
As in most cases regarding your health, it’s better to be proactive than reactive. Rather than wait around for your skin to shrivel and your heart to burst before you do something, we suggest you take steps to prevent free-radical production with the weapons you have available to you.
This is where antioxidant supplementation comes in. Antioxidants, such as those discussed in this article, protect the plasma membrane of cells by reacting with and removing free radicals.
Okay, so now that the boring part of the article is over, it’s time to cover what we feel are the most effective antioxidants around—stuff that you should be supplementing with. Don’t worry, we aren’t going to overwhelm you with a grocery list of every possible antioxidant known to man. Obviously, that would not be at all cost effective, but even if money weren’t an issue, supplementing with a million and one different compounds is not even desirable—period.
Not all supplements have a synergistic or even additive effect when combined. Some will provide no additional benefit and some will actually negate the effects of the compounds they’re combined with.
For that reason, we are going to briefly review some basic vitamins with antioxidant properties and then get into those anti-O’s that give you the most bang for your buck—compounds that aren’t simply just extremely effective antioxidants, but also possess an array of other health benefits.
The Foundation — Fish Oil
Fish oil is one of the best things to ever come out of the supplement industry, period. This stuff fights fat, builds muscle, and makes you healthy. It’s good for your skin, your nails, your hair, your heart, and your lungs. There really is no downside.
Because so much has been written about this stuff on TMuscle, we’re not going to spend too much time on it here. As a general recommendation, for the purposes of fat loss and oxidative stress, Coach Thibs suggests you take 1 gram of fish oil per percent bodyfat.
This is probably the best generalization we’ve ever come across, so we’re going to steal it. This means someone who is 12% bodyfat should take 12 grams of fish oil. In most cases, that’s 12 capsules. Of course, a more practical option is Biotest’s Flameout™. Due to the purity and potency (roughly three times as strong as its nearest competitor), you can get away with a much lower dose. With Flameout™, someone who is 12% bodyfat only needs to take 4 capsules per day for fat loss.
Every time we meet someone who doesn’t take fish oil, we don’t even know how to react. It’s like when someone tells you they’ve never seen The Breakfast Club, or worse, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. How did you get this far in life without seeing those movies, or taking fish oil? What the hell have you been doing with yourself? Don’t bother coming up with an excuse; you’re a moron. Get some fish oil. Save Ferris. Save yourself.
The Basics — Vitamin C and E
The next level up is C and E. These are vitamins that you should already be supplementing with, so we’re not going to spend a lot of time on them either. Each plays a number of roles in the body while also possessing antioxidant properties.
First up, Vitamin C.
Vitamin C is known for the slight immune boost it provides, and keeping sickness at bay is an excellent way from exposing your body to the free-radical production that illness can inflict.
In addition, if you stay healthy, you’re less likely to rely on medications for health purposes. While we’re not going to go on a diatribe decrying prescription meds as generally harmful, I think we can safely say that it is better to avoid taking them if you can. And that goes for over the counter stuff, as well. Better to take Vitamin C now than Nyquil later. Aim to ingest 500mg of Vitamin C, up to 800mg if you’re feeling sick.
Vitamin E seems to be a dream come true, especially if your primary reason for supplementation is anti-aging. Good for your skin, your hair, your nails, and keeps you healthy to boot! Try to get about 400 IU of Vitamin E, twice daily.
It is important to stick with the recommendations above. Although some supplement companies try to sell their products by listing multi-vitamins as containing 3,000,000% your RDA of Vitamin C, they’re not doing you a favor.
Assuming what the labels are claiming was even remotely possible, it would be unadvisable. Ingesting extreme amounts of Vitamin E can become toxic, and excessive amounts of Vitamin C can actually serve as a pro-oxidant, so stick to the recommendations above—you’ll get all the benefit and it’ll save you some cash, too.
With the vitamins out of the way, let’s move onto the big boys, starting with resveratrol. This is an interesting compound belonging to the phytoalexin class of phytochemicals, and is produced by plants in times of environmental stress.
Resveratrol has been identified in over 70 species of plants, with the most common source being the skin of grapes. As a result, most products derived from grapes will have pretty high levels of this cool stuff.
Unfortunately, this does not include grape flavored blow-pops, but it DOES include wine. Resveratrol is actually the primary reason all the health nuts and soccer moms are raving about the benefits of having a glass of wine with dinner. Of course, for a lot of people I know, any excuse to pound a few glasses of Merlot will do, but if you feel less guilty hiding behind a veil of health-consciousness, we’ve got the references to back you up.
There are also high quality resveratrol supplements available now like Biotest’s Rez-V™, so don’t think we’re pushing you towards a life of alcoholism. But if you’re going to have a drink with dinner, you can make a healthier choice instead of guzzling down that Testosterone-suppressing beer.
We like to think of resveratrol kind of like Jake Gyllenhaal. A moderate dose in a good movie is fine. But if you are having 4 glasses of wine “for the anti-oxidants” it’s a bit like saying you’re watching Brokeback Mountain for the acting. You have other motives, and we all know it.
In any event, there are a myriad of health benefits that can be attributed to this compound because of its antioxidant properties and other characteristics not directly associated with its ability to reduce oxidative stress, including, but not limited to:
• decreases lipogenic activity via increases in cAMP (5)
• possesses anti-mutagenic properties (6)
• possesses anti-carcinogenic properties due to its free radical scavenger effects and via increased levels of phase II drug-metabolizing enzyme quinine reductase, an enzyme capable of metabolically detoxifying carcinogens (6,10,11,12,13)
• has been shown to be effective in fighting all three phases of cancer: initiation, promotion, and progression (6,7,8,9)
• lowers LDL and total cholesterol
• acts as both an estrogen antagonist and an aromatase inhibitor
• decreases oxidation of LDL cholesterol
• possesses anti-inflammatory properties by reducing leukotriene production, a powerful mediator of inflammatory reactions (14,19)
• enhances immune function by decreasing endothelial adhesion (15,16)
• protects the brain against oxidative stress (17,18)
• potentially activates a life-span extending gene by increasing the rate of a process known as de-acetylation
If you prefer to use a supplement, we recommend taking Rez-V™ twice daily with food.
Stuff You Can Eat
While it is generally true that concentrated forms of vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants in capsule form are more potent than the foods from which they’re derived, we assume that not everyone who wants to be healthy enjoys popping pills all day long. Therefore, we thought it would be helpful to provide you a list of foods that will keep you healthy as well as full.
First up is pomegranate. Much like Oprah, pomegranate seems to have worked its way into everything lately. Pom has its own juice, and has been added to other juices to boot. It shows up in foods from vodka to chips to ice cream (like Oprah in the old days!). While these may be delicious, they are not the best option for you.
Instead, stick with either a pure pomegranate juice or—better yet—an actual pomegranate. The fruit itself is very tasty, and along with all the health benefits it possesses, eating whole fruits also has the added bonus of fiber.
The same thing also holds true for the other fruits high in anti-oxidants like blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. When you’re hungry and looking for something to snack on, they’re a great choice, provided you skip the blueberry muffin and munch on some actual blueberries.
Acupuncture in a Cup
Next up is green tea. Essentially an unfermented tea derived from the dried leaves of the camellia sinensis plant, green tea is rich in polyphenols such as tannins (a nutrient antioxidant) catechins (EGCG, which is a powerful antioxidant), and flavonoids, as well as other vitamins and minerals.
It’s long been held in high praise in many cultures for its medicinal properties, but it was the Chinese who were the first to use this amazing plant. Recently, green tea has recently been receiving a great deal of attention, which has led to many of the continual findings of new health benefits associated with its consumption. Most notably, green tea:
• increases fat oxidation and 24-hr energy expenditure (20,21)
• lowers the blood sugar response to carbohydrate ingestion due to catechins inhibiting enzyme action and polyphenol induced suppression of glucose uptake by the intestine to be transferred into the bloodstream (22)
• possesses liver protective properties (32,33,34,35,36,37,38)
• increases immune function
• helps prevent cavities and tooth decay (42,43)
• slows the aging process due to its free radical scavenger effects
• lowers cholesterol (25,26,39,40)
• reduces risk of numerous cancers, including bladder, colon, esophageal, pancreas, rectum, and stomach (41)
• reduces high blood pressure by impeding the action of angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) and subsequent production of angiotensin II, an extremely strong vascular constrictor (27)
• reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke
• prevents arthritis due to it’s anti-inflammatory properties (28,29,30,31)
Green tea is kind of like Chuck Norris. It’s been around nearly forever, but the more you learn about it, the more badass it seems. Just thinking about green tea makes you better looking. In fact, reading that last sentence increased the strength of your roundhouse kick by 12%.
You have the choice of drinking a bunch of tea or supplementing with an extract or both. Since the extract varies in potency depending on the brand, we’ll recommend a dosage based on polyphenol and EGCG content. Shoot for 500mg of polyphenols (equivalent to 2250mg of EGCG) twice daily with food (1 gram total).
The average 4 oz cup of green tea contains anywhere from 60-125mg of polyphenols, so if you’re getting all your green tea in beverage form, aim for 32 to 48 oz spread out over the course of the day. If you don’t want to drink that much, you can always make up for the rest of the polyphenol content by supplementing with an extract.
N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) — Saving the Cheerleader, the World, and Your Insides
If you’ve read about anything even remotely related to health and oxidative stress over the past five years, you’ve been seeing the letters NAC plastered all over every publication around. N-Acetyl-cysteine, also called NAC is not exactly a ‘new’ discovery, but it certainly seems to be getting all the attention of a rising star.
NAC is the equivalent of Hayden Panettierre. It’s been around for a while, but now it’s finally old enough (and enough studies have been done) for people to talk about how hot it is. And like Hayden, this stuff has super powers.
So what exactly is it? For starters, you’ve probably caught on by now that N-Acetyl Cysteine is an anti-oxidant, and a damn good one at that. For reasons we will illustrate below, it should become fairly obvious that NAC is one of the most potentially beneficial compounds you could [read: should] be taking.
N-Acetyl Cysteine is the pre-acetylized form of the dietary amino acid Cysteine. It serves as a powerful antioxidant, a premier antitoxin, and immune support substance. An extremely important take home fact is that NAC is also a precursor for glutathione.
Made of three constituent amino acids (glycine, glutamate and cysteine), glutathione is a small molecule found in almost every cell and is one of the most powerful anti-oxidants we know of. The rate at which glutathione can be made depends on the availability of cysteine, making supplementation with NAC quite advisable.
Let’s get a bit more specific about the benefits of NAC and glutathione:
While NAC is unlikely to give you healing or regenerative powers like Hayden’s character on Heroes, it has been shown to do the following:
• greatly improve immune function and response (49,50)
• improve lung function and aid in the prevention of bronchial related stress
• be potentially highly effective for anti-cancer supplementation; dietary NAC has been shown to be chemoprotective by slowing tumorigenesis and inducing apoptosis (44,46,47,54,56,57)
• improve renal function (45)
• combat neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease (PD), and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) by lowering phospho-tau levels, a hallmark molecule in the pathology of AD (48)
• act as an anti-inflammatory by reducing the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines by endothelial cells (51)
• be effective in the treatment of liver stress, toxicity, and failure, including but not exclusive to toxicity caused by high amounts of heavy metals and or acetaminophen (52,53,55)
We recommend 600mg taken twice daily.
Another super cool anti-O that’s been getting lots of attention lately is R-ALA, the R form of Alpha-Lipoic acid. R-ALA is a lot like Lindsay Lohan. As plain ol’ ALA, it had been around for a while; people knew about it and were impressed, but it wasn’t really anything special.
Like Lindsay, ALA was one of several modestly talented anti-oxidants. Then the new “R” rated version came out. Both Lindsay and R-ALA started partying like maniacs, showing off the occasional glamour shot of their crotch, singing songs about their lousy parents…not to mention the increase in oral bio-availability. And then there was the time R-ALA got placed on house arrest.
Ah, good times…
But let’s first discuss ALA in general. Alpha-Lipoic Acid is both a fat and water-soluble antioxidant, and has the immediate benefit of improving overall energy as it improves energy metabolism by the body’s cells. As a member of the antioxidant network, ALA regenerates Vitamins C and E, and Beta Carotene. In addition, much like NAC, alpha-lipoic acid works to increase the body’s production of the big-daddy free radical exterminator, glutathione.
So what makes the R-rated version such a rock star? R-ALA is the biologically active form of ALA, and is the form found naturally in the body. R-ALA has outperformed traditional Alpha-Lipoic Acid so convincingly that much of the current ALA research has used the R form exclusively.
In short, R-ALA has been shown to:
• improve memory, reduce brain damage, reverse cognitive dysfunction, and protect the brain from neuro-degeneration associated with aging (59,60)
• significantly reduce inflammation (58)
• increase insulin sensitivity, enhance glucose transport, increase metabolic rate, and reduce the gain in body fat from decreased metabolic rate (61,62)
• protects body fats against oxidative damage, chelates harmful metals and thus prevents damage to the heart (63,64)
• vastly increase cellular and mitochondrial antioxidant activity for preventing mitochondrial decay (59)
We recommend 200mg taken 3 times daily about 20-30 minutes before carbohydrate containing meals. Always look for the R form exclusively, not it’s synthetic cousin or formulations that boast a “mixture” of ALA and R-ALA.
Also, for a more “well rounded” approach, we recommend you take a serious look at Biotest’s ReceptorMax™.
While not an R-ALA supplement exclusively, ReceptorMax™ contains Na-R-ALA, which has been referred to as the “next generation” R-ALA, along with Acetyl L-Carnitine, Coenzyme Q-10, 4-hydroxyisoleucine, and Cinnamomum Burmanni; all of which assist in controlling insulin and maximizing Testosterone receptor content. Good stuff, for sure.
Keeping Up With Acai
Acai (pronounced ah-SIGH-ee) is sort of like the Kim Kardashian (pronounced card-ASS-ee-in) of the anti-oxidant world. Acai has been around for a while, but until about two or three years ago, no one really knew about it. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Acai exploded into the mainstream.
Acai started dating rappers, showing up at all the best parties, and that —coupled with the release of the infamous Acai Sex Tape—made sure everyone wanted a piece of this, er…robust fruit. And its juices. Oh boy.
It seems like everywhere you look, every entertainment medium from trashy magazines to Oprah is talking about Acai and Kim K. Since you probably know all about the latter, let’s talk a bit about the former.
Grown from the acai palm (a.k.a. euterpe), acai berries are perhaps the most potent source of antioxidants our world has to offer with an oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) ten to thirty times that of red wine grapes (and as we discussed earlier, grapes aren’t exactly shabby when it comes to anti-o content).
They’re a fruit native to Central and South America, where they are both regularly available and consumed. In North America, acai has more recently made its way into fruit juice blends and nutritional supplements, with the most potent form being freeze dried powder derived from the fruit’s skin and pulp. The preliminary research on acai has been promising, particularly with regards to the fruit’s antioxidant properties. Acai has been shown to:
• be abundant in many vitamins B1, B2, B3, C, and E (68)
• possess high concentrations of the free radical scavenging anthocyanins cyanidin 3-glucoside and cyanidin 3-rutinoside (65, 67)
• yield the highest oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) value of any fruit
• possess high activity against superoxide, peroxil, peroxynitrite and hydroxyl radicals (65, 67)
• inhibit inflammatory cyclooxygenase enzymes COX-1 and COX-2; enzymes important in both acute and chronic inflammation (69)
• stimulate production of macrophages, white blood cells extremely important to the immune system (69)
• be potentially effective for anti-cancer supplementation due to activation of caspase-3, an enzyme important in apoptosis (66)
Acai is certainly a super berry, super fruit, super antioxidant, super-any-way-you-look-at-it food. We recommend 1 gram of freeze-dried acai powder taken twice daily.
The Best of All Worlds
By now, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume and variety of substances available to you to keep cancer and aging at bay. Some New Age health gurus may tell you that you “need” to take ALL of the above compounds if you even want to live. Lucky for you, we’re not part of that group. We understand that sometimes practicality, finances, of even just plain laziness will inhibit you from taking advantage of all of the anti-oxidants available to you to protect your health.
Thankfully, even for those of us who find taking vitamins/anti-oxidants to be a hassle—not to mention a bit expensive—Biotest has made things remarkably simple with the introduction of Superfood.
If you can only have one dedicated source of anti-oxidants, please, let it be this powerful blend of ingredients.
Superfood is like the Pussy Cat Dolls of the health world. No matter what you are looking for in a woman, the Pussy Cat Dolls can fill your needs. Blondes? Check. Brunettes? Double check. Short, hot, spunky girls who can kick a leg all the way over their head? Look no further.
Now imagine what it would be like if only you could take advantage of all of that at once?
Well, that’s what Biotest Superfood is like. Only instead of a multitude of hot chicks with healthy bodies, it’s a multitude of freeze-dried fruits, veggies, and vitamins to make your body healthy.
And instead of giving you heart palpitations, Superfood fights free radicals. But still, you can see how they are similar.
Superfood is packed with the following: Wild Blueberry, Raspberry, Strawberry, Acai Berry, Goji Berry, Pomegranate, Broccoli Sprout, Kale, Spinach, Wasabi, Wild Yam, Green Tea and a whole mess of other stuff. It’s super pure, super potent, and to top it off, super tasty (much like the PCDolls).
So, if you can only choose one girl group to lust after, let it be the Pussy Cat Dolls. And if you can only choose once source of free radical fighting goodness, let it be Superfood.
The Wrap Up
Now that we’ve more than filled your weekly quota for trashy celebrity gossip, take a few minutes to think about places your anti-oxidant intake might be easily improved. Whether through pills or berries, juices or wine, or even the mighty Superfood, there are so many ways to fight free radicals, you really have no excuse not to.
And since you are done reading this article, you have no excuse to not be working anymore. That is, until you find another way to slack off at work, ya lazy bum.
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Um, he’s sick. My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it’s pretty serious. Too bad he wasn’t taking Flameout™…
…Jake Gyllenhaal, tolerable in small doses!
Not your momma’s insulin sensitivity supplement.
About Joel Marion
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About John Romaniello
John Romaniello is a Certified Personal Trainer, Strength Coach, and Freelance fitness author and model working in the New York City area. Working with clients ranging from high school athletes (and their parents) to professionals in all walks of life, John has helped countless individuals improve health, fitness, and performance. He can be reached at RomanFitnessX@aol.com
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