“Ultimate Guide to Antioxidants”: What You May Not Know

“Ultimate Guide to Antioxidants”: What You May Not Know

January 22, 2016

Did you know the cells of the human body are threatened on a daily basis? These threats come from viruses, bacteria, lack of food, toxic exposure and free radicals. Fortunately, we are not defenseless against these substances because of antioxidants, which are there to combat their damaging effects. Antioxidants are molecules (substances or nutrients) that inhibit the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation, a chemical reaction, produces free radicals that may damage cells and genetic material. Antioxidants are made in our body as well as found in the food we eat. These nutrients are vital because they help slow oxidative stress. They have also been shown to enhance the immune system and may decrease the risk of cancer.


Most people are familiar with the more common antioxidants like vitamin A and carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium. Some would consider them the best antioxidants you can get. However, there are many others that are less common like flavonoids and polyphenols, COQ10, alpha lipoic acid, and N-acetylcysteine (NAC) as related to glutathione that provide important functions.   


A big misconception is that antioxidants are interchangeable and can all provide similar functions in the body. However, they are all very different. Each antioxidant substance has unique biological properties and behaviors. I would like to take this opportunity to discuss some of the less common antioxidants and their functions and role in the body’s overall health and wellness.


Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is considered a vitamin like compound or coenzyme. It is believed to possess antioxidant activity both intra and extra cellularly. Due to these antioxidant properties, ALA has been researched for its role in conditions that are a result of oxidative stress. These include diabetes, insulin resistance and neuropathy. One unique property of ALA is that is it both active in the water and lipid compartments of the cells where most antioxidants are only effective in one area. This allows it to assist other antioxidants in the body to function at a higher level. Research has found ALA enhances the removal of glucose from the bloodstream and improves the function of insulin. It has also been shown to reduce the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy like pain, burning, and numbness. In terms of supplementation, typical doses are 50-100mg/day with higher levels of 300-600mg/day for the prevention and treatment of blood glucose abnormalities.


Coenzyme Q 10 (COQ10) is found in the mitochondria of all cells. It is particularly plentiful in the tissues of the heart, liver, kidney, and pancreas. One of its functions is it acts as an antioxidant to help prevent cellular damage from free radicals. These free radicals can be produced during exercise and energy production.


COQ10 may be particularly beneficial for individuals with heart disease. Studies have shown supplementation with COQ10 improves shortness of breath, heart rate, blood pressure, and fluid retention. In addition, COQ10 has been shown to benefit those taking cholesterol-lowering medications like statins because these medications have been shown to reduce blood levels of COQ10. These lower blood levels can affect the heart’s function during increased activity and exercise. Also, COQ10 can help decrease these symptoms of muscle tissue breakdown (pain and discomfort) frequently caused by statin therapy. Recommended dosing of COQ10 varies from 50-300mg per day depending on the benefits desired for an individual.


N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a derivative of the amino acid cysteine produced naturally in the body and found in many foods containing protein. It is involved in the conversion of cysteine to glutathione, the primary antioxidant found in the body. Adequate levels of glutathione may enhance the function of the immune system.  NAC has been used in Europe to treat upper respiratory conditions like bronchitis. NAC as a supplement is typically sold in 200mg-600mg doses with suggested daily intake of 1200mg-2400mg per day with food.


There are many other substances and nutrients in our diet and in supplements that possess antioxidant properties that can be beneficial to your health. It’s best to work with a Registered Dietitian or qualified health professional to get advice on the common ones as well as those people are not as familiar with. Then you can be educated on the proper food and supplement selection to enhance your diet. This is how you get the best antioxidants for your health.

By Angela B. Moore, MS, RD, CLT


References: Harvard.EDU; Mayoclinic.com; The Health Professionals Guide to Dietary Supplements, Clinical Nutrition A Functional Approach.

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Diabetes Mellitus , Diet and Nutrients , Dietary Supplements, Diet and Disease