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Benefits of Antioxidants

July 19, 2017 / Posted by Dr. Virender Sodhi, MD (Ayurveda), ND

Benefits of Antioxidants

Antioxidants have vast benefits. Antioxidants are natural substances that fight against the action of free radicals. The human body naturally forms disease-causing free radicals, and the antioxidants counteract their damaging effects. Eating foods rich in antioxidants, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, has been associated with a lowered risk of cardiovascular and many other diseases.

The plant-based diets including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains have been found to reduce the risk of heart disease, improve metabolism, and enhance gene expression. Research demonstrates that some of the longest living and least dementia-prone people live on plant-based diets. Various studies have shown that foods rich in polyphenols (naturally occurring phytochemicals that give plants their color and help protect them) improve brain health. One rich antioxidant for brain health and performance is a fruit from the Amazon region called acai (composed of two species, Euterpe olaracea and Euterpe precatoria).

Acai berries are abundant in polyphenols and antioxidants. The acai pulp’s amazing antioxidant abilities has received a lot of attention by food scientists. Acai fruit pulp is rich in polyphenols, anthocyanins and flavones, and it also has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties (Schauss 2015). If you are scrutinizing into only polyphenols, there are over a dozen foods that have more polyphenols than even acai per serving. Some of these foods include black elderberry, plums, flaxseeds, dark chocolate, and coffee (Jimenez et al. 2010).

In terms of antioxidants, the acai berries have ten times more antioxidants than typical fruits such as peaches and papayas, and five times more antioxidants than strawberries. However, blackberries have more antioxidants than acai. Blackberries are inexpensive and more widely available compared to acai berries (Zielinski et al. 2014).

Acai berries don’t just have potential brain benefits. They are protective alone in the reduction of pulmonary harm induced by cigarette smoke (Yamaguchi et al. 2015). The addition of acai to cigarettes has shown a protective effect against emphysema in smoking mice. A study compared lung damage in mice induced by chronic inhalation of regular cigarette smoke and smoke from cigarettes containing 100mg of hydroalcoholic extract of acai berry stone. The smoke-exposed mice without acai served as the control group. After 60 days, the mice were sacrificed and their lungs were examined. The presence of acai extract in cigarettes had a shielding effect against emphysema. The researchers concluded that adding acai extract to cigarettes might reduce their harmful effects (Moura et al. 2011).

Acai berries are also known to reduce coronary heart disease risk due to the vasodilation effect (Yamaguchi et al. 2015). Studies on acai berries show a vasodilator effect in the mesenteric vascular beds of rats (Rocha et al. 2007). Vasodilation is the widening of blood vessels. It is caused by a relaxation of smooth muscle cells in arteries and causes an increase in blood flow. Vasodilation reduces blood pressure and heart rate. Let’s examine the health effects of various antioxidants such as acai berries, cooked and raw blueberries, grapes, cocoa, turmeric, orange juice, green tea, and black tea on artery function.

Recent research has shown the positive effects of acai berries on artery function of humans. In a published study, overweight men were given a smoothie containing about two-thirds of a cup of frozen acai pulp and half a banana versus an artificially-colored placebo smoothie with banana but no acai. There was a clinically significant improvement in artery function within two hours of consumption of acai smoothie which lasted for a minimum of six hours (Alqurashi et al. 2016). It is worth noting that those with improved artery function have 13% less cardiovascular events like a fatal heart attack (Inaba et al. 2010).

The same effects as acai berries can also come from wild blueberries. Blueberries are a rich source of flavonoids and polyphenols. An antioxidant pigment found in food plants such as blueberries is anthocyanin. A clinical study looked at the impact of blueberry flavonoid intake on endothelial function in healthy men. The researchers found out that blueberry intake improves vascular function in healthy men. Eating blueberries rich in anthocyanins, with a dietary intake of 100g to 240g, may be relevant in maintaining circulatory function (Rodriguez-Mateos et al. 2013).

Another study analyzed cooked blueberries. Ten healthy volunteers consumed the following diet: 1.) Blueberry-containing baked products; 2.) An unprocessed blueberry drink containing the identical amount of freeze-dried blueberry powder used in baked products; 3.) Matched control baked products. The processing did not significantly change the total polyphenolic quantities, but the processed products contained significantly less polyphenols such as anthocyanins. It is better to eat fresh blueberries. However, even if you baked the blueberries into a bun, such as a blueberry muffin, there still is a significant improvement in artery function with cooked blueberries (Rodriguez-Mateos et al. 2014).

Studies indicate that smoking-related vascular disease is due to impaired nitric oxide (NO) synthesis, and a diet rich in flavonols can increase bioactive NO in the body. Cocoa is another flavonol-rich powerful heart antioxidant. Cocoa can reverse endothelial dysfunction in smokers. One tablespoon of cocoa enhances vascular function in smokers. Research shows that oral consumption of cocoa in smokers increased bioactive NO and endothelium-dependent vasodilation. The increase in NO from cocoa leads to beneficial vascular health effects, even more than the berries (Heiss et al. 2005).

In another investigation, one quarter cups of multi-colored grapes also gave a nice boost in artery function, and enough to counter an “acute endothelial insult” (a sudden attack on the vulnerable inner-layer of our arteries) caused by a single standardized high fat meal. The scientists gave subjects a high fat meal consisting of a McDonald’s sausage egg breakfast sandwich and two hash browns (900 total calories, 49g total fat, 13g saturated fat, and 245 mg cholesterol) with and without grapes. Without the grapes, the high fat meal meant cutting artery function in half within an hour of consuming the meal. When the grapes were not consumed with the high fat meal, the arteries stiffened three hours later. Eating the meal with grapes translated into almost no negative effects from the high-calorie, high fat meal (Chaves et al. 2009).

There was an interesting study published on curry. Curry, one of the more popular Asian foods, contains spices rich in antioxidants such as turmeric or curcumin. Curry originated in traditional Indian diet and has become popular throughout the world. In addition to turmeric, curry meal contains spices such as cloves, coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, sautéed onion, and red pepper. The presence of spice antioxidants in curry prevents an increase in oxidative stress, which is an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to detoxify their damaging effects via neutralization by antioxidants. The study found that if you eat a meal with hamburger meat, artery function drops post-meal. When you eat the same meal with curry containing spices such as half a teaspoon of turmeric, your artery function improves. The scientists concluded that curry consumption may be beneficial for preventing cardiovascular events. Hence, the turmeric in curries may be advantageous in fighting against lifestyle-related diseases such as heart disease (Nakayama et al. 2014).

How about orange juice? Having four cups of commercial orange juice a day for four weeks showed no change on artery function. Consuming a freshly squeezed orange juice also showed no effect on artery function (Asgary et al. 2014). This is one of the reasons berries are the healthiest fruits.

However, tea is a powerful heart antioxidant beverage. Tea consumption is linked with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Tea contains chemicals called catechins which are responsible for these beneficial effects. Green tea contains more catechins than black tea. Research indicates that green tea improves artery function. If you drink two cups of green tea, you get the same effect as cocoa. Artery function improves dramatically within 30 minutes of drinking green tea (Alexopoulos et al. 2008). The same is essentially true with black tea. Green and black tea are equally effective in enhancing endothelial function (Jochmann et al.2008). Black tea actually produces twice as strong a positive effect on arteries as the acai berries.

In conclusion, increasing the antioxidant intake in diet is essential for good health. Consuming antioxidants in your foods such as acai berries, blueberries, grapes, cocoa, turmeric, green tea, and black tea can protect your body against many health problems.

References

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