Saturday, July 19, 2008

Antioxidants: Protection from cancer-causing free-radicals with antioxidants contained in vitamin C, Pycnogenol and various herbs (Part III)

Consider Supplements

If, as with many Americans, you are finding it difficult to consume enough antioxidant-rich foods to obtain effective amounts of beta carotene and vitamins C and E-while keeping your fat intake down-you may want to consider vitamin supplements.

You also may want to consider reaping antioxidants' benefits through herbs. "We're just beginning to learn about antioxidants in herbs," offers Rob McCaleb, president and founder of The Herb Research Foundation in Boulder, Colorado, a nonprofit foundation that collects scientific studies on the safety and use of herbs. Having reviewed more than 100,000 articles over the past 14 years, he believes that "herb research is an exciting area, but one that is really still in its developmental stages. We don't have all the details yet."

But while all the facts aren't in, we do know enough about certain herbs, spices, and other antioxidant-rich compounds to make specific recommendations. To begin, "try to spread the herbs you take throughout the day, so that there are always free-radical scavengers in your bloodstream," suggests McCaleb. What follows are some promising players in the field, and the dosages that have been shown to bring benefits.

Garlic: Available as a tablet or in its natural bulbous form, garlic may prevent heart disease by lowering blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. It also fights bacteria, viruses, and yeast.

Rx: "Much of what we know about garlic comes from research we have on dietary [cooked] garlic," says McCaleb. Quality research has also been done on garlic tablets. To reap the benefits, consider 600 mg per day in tablets or capsules; this is equal to one to two cloves of fresh garlic.

Turmeric: Curcumin is the compound that gives this exotic spice its intense yellow-orange color. It's also the component in turmeric that works as an anti-inflammatory (not unlike cortisone), making it useful for arthritis. Turmeric also may lower cholesterol levels, hinder blood clotting, "detox" the liver, help combat cancer and peptic disorders.

Rx: "The German government, which has reviewed more than 300 herbs, suggests two grams per day" for optimal benefits, says Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council, the nation's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to herbal medicine, research and education, located in Austin, Texas. Consider taking a 500 mg (1/2 gram) capsule three to four times per day.

Ginger: Used for centuries to combat nausea, headaches, and colds, preliminary research is linking its antioxidant properties to lowering cholesterol levels and reducing the odds of blood clots. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, with antibiotic properties. Use the fresh root when cooking, or as a tea. "You can buy it in capsule form, too," says Blumenthal. "All you need is two capsules, which is just one gram, to get the anti-nausea effect."

Ginkgo Biloba and Bilberry: These popular herbs protect cell walls from oxidative damage, including those of the cardiovascular system. They also enhance blood flow, keeping the skin moist and supplied with oxygen, and prevent vascular-related problems such as memory loss and headaches. Bilberry, which is the European version of our blueberry, also affects enzymes that help protect against night blindness.

Rx: "Ginkgo biloba is a concentrated and standardized extract," offers McCaleb. The recommended dosage: 40 mg of a 50:1 extract, three times per day, for a total of 120 mg per day.

Rosemary: This common food-flavoring "is one of the most active compounds for antioxidant use that we know," says McCaleb. Its far-reaching antioxidant benefits include anti-aging properties, cardiovascular protection, and cancer-fighting ability. "It's also one of the 200 herbs that have been approved by Germany's Commission E, an expert advisory panel that has reviewed more than 300 herbs for safety and efficacy," explains Blumenthal. To date, Germany's Commission E has approved about 200 of these herbs [including rosemary] as non-prescription medicine.

Rx: McCaleb recommends trying the dry herb as a tea, in doses of three to six grams; or as a liquid extract, two to four ml.

Spirulina: This natural blue-green algae is available in tablet and powder form. Early studies from the National Cancer Institute link it with boosting the immune system. The chlorophyll (green plant pigment) in spirulina is often touted as a "purifier," capable of healing and preventing disease from some forms of cancer to kidney problems.

Rx: "One of the big questions about spirulina is quantity," says McCaleb. "Are people getting enough of it?" The answer isn't clear, though, because chlorophyll, like fiber, "pretty much goes right through us," says McCaleb. "It's not easy to measure," he explains, "because you can't use blood plasma levels with something that isn't absorbed." Another reason: Its antioxidant effect doesn't necessarily occur in the blood.

Medicinal mushrooms: Reishi, shiitake, and maitaki mushrooms all contain powerful antioxidant properties. Their major benefits: lowering cholesterol, increasing the HDL ("good") cholesterol, and protection against some forms of cancer.

Rx: Because reishi is too bitter to be edible (unlike shiitake and maitaki mushrooms), it's available in powdered form, capsules, and extracts. "The dosage range is very broad," offers McCaleb: one to 15 grams per day.

Flavonoids: These naturally occurring substances (there are hundreds of them) are abundant in vegetables, fruits, and tea. They're charged with the ability to lower the risk of heart attacks and death from heart disease (Lancet, October 23, 1993). The "star" flavonoid: quercetin. It's found mostly in the rind of citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, and grapefruits, as well as green pepper, broccoli, and tomatoes.

Rx: Elson Haas, MD, in his book, Staying Healthy with Nutrition (Celestial Arts 1992), suggests supplementation of quercetin at doses of 100 to 250 mg, three times daily and doses of 250 to 500 mg for bioflavonoid supplements.

OPCs: A complex of specific flavonoids, researchers have shown OPCs (oligomeric proanthocyanidins) to contain powerful antioxidant properties-perhaps 50 times greater than that of vitamins C and E. Abundant in extracts of grape seed and pine bark (also known as pycnogenol), OPCs may be useful in preventing and treating varicose veins, broken capillaries and bruising, and eye ailments such as macular degeneration. OPCs also show promise in preventing the oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, which is linked to atherosclerosis ("clogged" arteries).

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