Many of my clients ask what they can do to reduce oxidative stress, the cell damage due to the accumulation of oxygen free radicals in their bodies. When you take an antioxidant, that's what you're trying to counteract.
Over time, oxidative stress might increase risk of cancer, heart disease or memory loss.
For perspective, oxygen free radicals are molecules created during normal body metabolism. Contrary to popular opinion, we normally need worry about this process only when higher levels of these free radicals get into our cell membranes and cause damage.
Oxidative stress can be related to inflammation through changes in nitric oxide, leading to vascular cell wall damage. Blood tests for oxidative stress look for markers such as 8-isoprostane, a prostaglandin-like compound.
Antioxidants counteract free radicals and protect our cells from damage. The body actually manufactures its own antioxidants like superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase and lipid hydroperoxide, natural constituents that are different from over-the-counter antioxidants like vitamin A, betacarotene, vitamin E, lycopene, coenzyme Q10, vitamin C, selenium and turmeric (curry).
The fat soluble vitamins (E, A and beta carotene) can accumulate in fatty tissues and cause unwanted effects over time.
Vitamin A might increase risk of hip fracture if consumed in higher amounts than the recommended daily allowance of 3,500-5,000 IU. Vitamin E might increase risk of stroke if consumed in greater than 150 IU daily amounts for longer than two years.
Foods rich in antioxidant value include phytoestrogens like soy, flaxseed and yams and other foods such as tomatoes, broccoli, blueberries, cherries, pomegranate and green tea.
Two tests touted to help you interpret your antioxidant levels are available: the Biophotonic Scanner by Pharmanex and the TBARS test.
The scanner measures the amount of carotenoids in the skin of your hand by passing a blue laser light through it. An antioxidant score is generated from the test that might have no clinical relevance and does not represent other antioxidant levels in your body outside of vitamin A-like constituents.
The TBARS test is used in research for screening and monitoring lipid peroxidation, an indicator of oxidative stress. The test can measure free radical activity in certain disease states but isn't considered diagnostic for clinical illness.
If you're really interested in your antioxidant-related health status, talk with your physician about a blood test. Valid blood tests measure levels of vitamin A, vitamin E, beta carotene, coenzyme Q10, vitamin C and selenium. In addition, anti-inflammatory constituents like omega 3 can be measured in the blood.
The best advice is to eat a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables that contain antioxidants as well as anti-inflammatory constituents like salmon, wheat germ, walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts instead of mega-dosing on supplements.
DR. CATHY CREGER ROSENBAUM is a Holistic Clinical Pharmacist and the founder and CEO of Rx Integrative Solutions. More online at www.rxintegrativesolutions.com.