Herbal Antioxidants from the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine
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Antioxidant. The word itself is magic. Suggesting some type of all encompassing protection against cellular wear and damage, the scientific medical community has now embraced a once reviled theory. Using the antioxidant concept as a spearhead in proposed mechanisms for staving off so called "free radical" reactions, the rush is on to mine claims for the latest and most effective combination of free radical scavenging compounds.
Without disputing or supporting the concept that aggressive oxygen species are the new culprit for most illnesses (superseding the microbial causative drama of the 19th century), we must acknowledge that such "radicals" have definitively been shown to damage all biochemical components such as DNA/ RNA; carbohydrates; unsaturated lipids; proteins; and micronutrients such as Carotenoids (alpha and beta carotene, lycopene), vitamins A, B6, B]2, and folate.
Defense strategies against such aggressive radical species include enzymes, antioxidants that occur naturally in the body (glutathione, uric acid, ubiquinol 10, and others) and radical scavenging nutrients, such as vitamins A, C, and E, and Carotenoids.
It is important to state at the outset that antioxidants vary widely in their free radical quenching effects and each may be individually attracted to specific cell sites. Further evidence of the specialized nature of the Carotenoids is demonstrated by the appearance of two Carotenoids in the macula region of the retina where beta carotene is totally absent (Handelman, 1988). These two retina specific Carotenoids are zeaxanthin (a yellow pigment found in corn seeds, sweet red pepper, bitter orange peel, and in green algae) and lutein (found in the green leaves of all higher plants, also in algae, in citrus rind, in apricot, peach, plum, apple, and cranberry).
How the Antioxidants Complement Rather Than Compete with One Another
As scientific inquiry proceeds we will likely learn of other site specific attractions and functions of the Carotenoids. This will help us understand why we need not reject one class of antioxidant compounds to accept another. They each may accumulate in specialized cells and tissues, with some overlapping protection, but a variety of them is required to give us the best protection possible.
Interestingly, just as foods work together so do the antioxidants. Professor Lester Packer of the University of California at Berkeley is one of the world’s pre eminent antioxidant researchers. He and coworkers recently demonstrated how Carotenoids interact with vitamins E and C. Beta carotene, it was shown, can protect LDL against oxidative damage even when vitamin E levels are low (Packer, 1993).
In this regard, antioxidants act synergis tically, offering a rainbow of protection rather than a single band of the spectrum. Moreover, plant antioxidants such as phenols and bioflavonoids may potentiate vitamin antioxidants. For example, rutin, a bioflavonoid, potentiates vitamins C and E when taken in combination, yielding a more potent radical scavenging action. That is, adding a third antioxidant (rutin) creates a combined effect greater than the sum of the parts (Negre Salvayre, 1991).
Antioxidant factors found in plants are based upon constituent nutrients with demonstrated radical scavenging capacities as well as upon non vitamin or mineral substances. So, in addition to alpha tocopherol, ascorbate, Carotenoids, and zinc, plant based medicines may contain flavonoids, polyphenols, and flavoproteins. Further, some plants or specific combinations of herbs in formulations may act as antioxidants by exerting superoxide scavenging activity (Pronai, 1991) or by increasing superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity in various tissue sites (Liu, 1990). Each of these groups of compounds are substances that may exert that cell protective action by more than one biochemical mechanism (Dragsted, 1993).
In addition to antioxidant properties per se, cancer protective factors are found in many plants, including some fruits, vegetables, and commonly used spices and herbs. Among each of these groups of compounds are substances, which may exert their cancer protective action by more than one biochemical mechanism. The biochemical processes of carcinogenesis are still not known in detail and probably varies with the cancer disease in question. Accordingly, the description of the biochemical backgrounds for the actions of cancer protective factors must be based on a simplified model of the process of carcinogenesis. mutagens, clastogens, recombinogens or the like. Experimental evidence for the mechanisms of action of cancer protective agents in fruits and vegetables that protect against initiation include the scavenging effects of polyphenols on activated mutagens and carcinogens, the quenching of singlet oxygen and radicals by Carotenoids, the antioxidant effects of many compounds including ascorbic acid and polyphenols, the inhibition of activating enzymes by some flavonols and tannins, the induction of oxidation and of conjugation (protective) enzymes by indoles, isothiocyanates and dithiothiones, the shielding of sensitive structures by some polyphenols and the stimulation of DNA repair exerted by sulphur containing compounds. Mechanisms
at the biochemical level in antipromotion include the antioxidant effects of Carotenoids and the membrane stabilizing effects reported with polyphenols, the inhibition of proteases caused by compounds from soybeans, the stimulation of immune responses seen with Carotenoids and ascorbic acid, and the inhibition of ornithine decarboxylase by polyphenols and Carotenoids. A few inhibitors of conversion have been identified experimentally, and it can be argued on a theoretical basis, that many inhibitors of initiation should also be efficient against conversion. The mechanisms of anticarcinogenic substances in fruits and vegetables are discussed in the light of cancer prevention and inhibition (Dragsted, 1993).
Plant antioxidants are more than mere supporting players in the battle against cellular damage and disease. As folklore has long instructed, certain plants play specific roles in disease prevention and treatment. A well known hepatic antioxidant, silymarin, from the milk thistle (Silybum marianum), for example, inhibits liver damage by scavenging free radicals among other mechanisms (Hikino Kiso, 1988). This powerful antioxidant protects the liver against alcohol and pharmaceutical injury and even poisoning from extremely toxic compounds found in the Deathcap mushroom, Amanita phalloides. Interestingly, the Amanita toxins are not thought to be neutralized via any free radical scavenging effects. Rather, it is theorized that silymarin competes with the Amanita toxins for the identical receptor on cell membranes (Hikino Kiso, 1988). Here again, contemporary laboratory science confirms and elucidates the liver protecting attributes of milk thistle, well known to folk medicine for 2,000 years.
Scientific Name: Zingiber officinale Parts Used: Rhizome
Dosage: 1 ounce of rhizome to 1 pint of water. Boil the water separately, then pour over the plant material and steep for 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the desired effect. Drink hot or warm, 1 to 2 cups per day.
Currently, Ginger has received new attention as an aid to prevent nausea from motion sickness. Ginger tea has long been an American herbal remedy for coughs and asthma, related to allergy or inflammation; the creation of the soft drink ginger ale, sprang from the common folkloric usage of this herb, and still today remains a popular beverage for the relief of stomach upset. Externally, Ginger is a rubefacient, and has been credited in this connection with relieving headache and toothache.
The mechanism by which Ginger produces anti inflammatory activity is that of the typical NSAID (non steroidal anti inflammatory drug). This common spice is a more biologically active prostaglandin inhibitor (via cyclo oxygenase inhibition) than onion and Garlic. By slowing associated biochemical pathways an inflammatory reaction is curtailed. In one study, Danish women between the ages of 25 to 65 years, consumed either 70 grams raw onion or 5 grams raw ginger daily for a period of one week. This confirms the Ayurvedic "prescription" for this common spice and its anti aggregatory effects.
By reducing blood platelet "clumping," Ginger, Onion and Garlic may reduce our risk of heart attack or stroke. In a series of experiments with rats, scientists from Japan discovered that extracts of Ginger inhibited gastric lesions by up to 97%.
In an earlier look at how some of the active components of Ginger (and onion) act inside our cells, it was found that the oils of these herbs inhibit the fatty acid oxygenases from platelets, thus decreasing the clumping of these blood cell components.
A 1991 double blind, randomized crossover trial involved thirty women suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum. Ginger was alternated with a placebo. Seventy percent of the women confirmed they subjectively preferred the period in which they took the Ginger. More objective assessment verified the subjective reactions, as significantly greater relief was found after the use of the Ginger. In a series of experiments with rats, scien
tists from Japan discovered that extracts of ginger inhibited gastric lesions by up to 97%.
Scientific Name: Ginkgo biloba Parts Used: Leaves
Dosage: Approximately 1/2 ounce of leaves to 1 pint of water. Boil water separately and pour over the plant material and steep for 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the desired effect. Drink hot or warm, 1 to 2 cups per day, at bedtime and upon wakening.
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