Saturday, December 22, 2012

Is There a Need for Supplemental Antioxidants?

I was talking with a group of people a week or so ago on the topic of...yes, of course, osteoporosis. While on the topic of oxidative stress and how free radicals* can tax the body's antioxidant status leading to oxidative cell damage and chronic disease such as osteoporosis, a person asked "Why do I have to take supplemental antioxidants if I eat a really healthy diet?" Good question.

My response was that it may be completely reasonable to assume that a healthy person could get all of his or her nutrients for antioxidant activity from diet alone. The body, after all, has evolved mechanisms to deal with the naturally occurring free radicals/oxidants produced during everyday physiological processes. When these innate mechanisms (endogenous antioxidants) are bolstered by dietary antioxidants derived from organic fruits and vegetables, there is no doubt, this should suffice...in a healthy individual. But the reality is that if a person's system is struggling, if it is catabolic**...as it often is with osteoporosis...then, even if that person is taking in lots of nutritious food loaded with antioxidants, it still might not be enough to pull them back to health.

Several factors can increase the number of free radicals produced in the body, overwhelming the ability of natural antioxidants to cope. Examples include exposure to chemicals, drugs, tobacco (even second-hand smoke), radiation, sunlight, electronic pollution, and known and unsuspected toxins and pollution in our food, water and air.

Excessive exercise, dysfunctional internal metabolic processes, physical strains and emotional stresses of all kinds can also cause a healthy body to get overwhelmed and spike free radical production. Add to that a drop in estrogen levels at menopause or low blood levels of vitamin D on a cold winter day, or an abnormal microbial overgrowth in the gut from either past antibiotic use or current low-grade food sensitivity...now you have an overwhelming accumulation of free radicals in the body.

Full-size image (28 K)Healthy diets can be compromised by processed foods which are hard to avoid. Increasingly, our food supply is being degraded through harmful growing practices and soil depletion, and can no longer be relied upon to protect us from oxidative stress.

If an individual is suffering from a chronic disease, such as osteoporosis, his or her biological systems are already stressed. There is no doubt, excess free radicals will damage cells and incite inflammation.

But does supplementing with antioxidants help? 

Research on this topic often says "yes" but there are some inconsistent findings. Da Costa et al., (2012) in Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science tell us that these inconsistent findings may be, in part, due to genetics.

"Polymorphisms [discrete genetic variations] in genes coding for endogenous antioxidant enzymes or proteins responsible for the absorption, transport, distribution, or metabolism of dietary antioxidants have been shown to affect antioxidant status and response to supplementation. These genetic variants may also interact with environmental factors, such as diet, to determine an individual's overall antioxidant status." When free radical production "exceeds the ability of the antioxidant networks to manage them, oxidative stress results. Macromolecule damage and abnormal cellular signaling and gene expression associated with oxidative stress may then lead to chronic disease development."

Supplemental antioxidants, especially key ones such as alpha lipoic acid, N-acetyl cysteine, berberine, green tea, taurine, and milk thistle can help to pull the body, especially one that is struggling to improve bone health, out of oxidative stress and onto the road of recovery. That's exactly why we put all these antioxidants into OsteoStim, our special formulation designed to help relieve oxidative stress, the prime culprit in the uncoupling of bone remodeling that leads to bone loss.

Da Costa et al., 2012, Genetic determinants of dietary antioxidant status. Prog Mol Biol Transl Sci, 108:179-200.

*   By way of a refresher about free radicals, antioxidants, and oxidative stress:

When oxygen interacts with carbohydrates and fats in our cells during the creation of energy, it is termed oxidation. The formation of free radicals or oxidants is a normal byproduct of regular energy metabolism. Free radicals are unstable, highly reactive molecules that lose an electron as a result of this activity. These molecules then "steal" electrons from other molecules and can lead to cell damage.

Exogenous (derived from outside of the body) antioxidants are certain vitamins, herbs and other substances that supply missing electrons for unstable molecules, thus neutralizing the free radicals and allowing the body to undergo metabolic processes without harm.

Oxidative stress occurs when free radicals, which are not neutralized by antioxidants, go on to create more volatile free radicals and damage cell walls, vessel walls, proteins, fats and even the DNA in the nucleus of our cells. Oxidative stress has the potential to overpower all of our protective systems and cause chronic degenerative diseases.


**  Catabolic:

A catabolic physiology is when there is a destructive breakdown of complex molecules in the body--a classic description of someone with osteoporosis. The opposite of catabolic is anabolic, which refers to the constructive synthesis and a building up or repair process of the body.
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