Addressing the Imbalance of Reactive Oxygen Species in the Body With Antioxidants

by Dr. Susan Tanner, MD

Antioxidants have been at the forefront of many health and wellness articles over the years following their detailed description and applications by world-renowned nutritional supplement expert Dr. Parris Kidd, Ph.D., back in the 1970s.  The media also frequently advertises many antioxidant supplements as being the wellspring of health, vitality, and healing.  Many claims about the treatment potential of antioxidants for cancer and other diseases have even been made but are hard to validate without knowing more about exactly what form is being used and in what scenarios.

What is an Antioxidant?

To understand the term “antioxidant,” it is important to also understand the term “oxidative stress.”  Oxidation is the chemical process that happens to metals when they rust, or the brown color that develops on a cut apple, and is the result of exposure to the combination of oxygen with other elements.  Some elements are less likely to combine with oxygen and are more impervious to rusting. In the human body, the term oxidative stress, or rusting, can occur when there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body.  Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules with an uneven number of electrons.  This uneven number of electrons allows free radicals to react easily with other molecules. Antioxidants are molecules that can donate an electron to a free radical without making themselves unstable, which can allow the free radical to stabilize and become less reactive.

Oxidation and Disease

Oxidation is a normal and necessary process but when the number of free radicals increases over what antioxidants in the body can handle, then damage in the body is done.  Some examples of diseases related to oxidative stress are Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

Additionally, specific free radicals may cause specific disease processes.  An example of this is smoking and the increased frequency of lung cancer and heart disease. Another example is what happens to the body from mold and mycotoxin exposure; illness generally manifests when the influx of mycotoxins into the body has caused an increase in free radicals in the body. The manifestation of this, however, can be multifocal in effect and is not confined to one organ system or disease process.

Genetics and Oxidative Stress

Genetics enters the picture in any of these scenarios in the effectiveness of prevention of the biochemical process of oxidation.  When the body can effectively produce and access antioxidants such as glutathione to counteract an influx of mold toxins, symptoms, and illnesses associated with the exposure are less noticeable and pronounced. This explains much of why some people succumb to terrible mold illness and others remain seemingly unscathed.  The threshold is vastly individual.  But when we discuss good health and wellness, certainly the things that cause, augment, or encourage oxidative stress in anyone, regardless of genetics, need to be avoided, like smoking or living in a moldy environment.

The Stress-Antioxidant Balance

I will go off course a little here to mention that sometimes oxidative stress is necessary and beneficial.  For example, such is the case of chemotherapy in treating certain cancers.  Chemotherapy is actually inducing an oxidative stress reaction so as to kill cancer cells. There are obvious deleterious downstream effects as well from chemo, but the main targets are the cancer cells during the treatment period.

For the majority of the time, however, doing all that we can to keep levels of oxidative stress minimized is the path to better health, wellness, energy, and staving off the aging process.  This is one of the reasons that we keep re-iterating the importance of clean air, clean food, and clean water.  Toxicities in any of these areas can overwork body processes and thus lead to an imbalance with levels of oxidative stress so high that it becomes more difficult for the body to withstand immune challenges of any sort.

Using Supplemental Antioxidants

In terms of treatment, we employ the use of many antioxidants in our regimens for patients not only with mold-related illnesses but with almost any other chronic disease. Some antioxidants are very specific, for example, glutathione.  This substance is used to help bind and reduce the toxins in the liver, so as to decrease the free radicals in the blood. (A simplification of the process for sure, but this is the result).  Other antioxidants that get a lot of attention, as they should, are Vitamin C and Resveratrol.

Vitamin C supports a vast array of processes in the body, including the synthesis of collagen, and immune system function. Vitamin C is the most important water-soluble antioxidant. Humans, unlike most other mammals, cannot manufacture vitamin C, so we must obtain it from food or nutritional supplements. Vitamin C is concentrated in the adrenal glands which is crucial for the production of adrenal hormones involved in responding to stress. In immune system function, vitamin C helps in white blood cell production as well as in the degradation of harmful compounds. Collagen and elastin, found in the connective tissues are bolstered by vitamin C as well.  There is some evidence suggesting the improvement in HDL cholesterol with Vitamin C influence.

In addition to vitamin C,  fruit extracts and concentrates from grapes, cranberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries make up more compounds known as polyphenols which are also effective quenchers of free radicals. You may see a number of these contained in vision support formulas to protect against or slow the process of macular degeneration. Berries in particular contain high levels of polyphenols which are both diverse and high in number.   The vibrant colors of fruits and berries come from these various compounds, which include polyphenols, flavonoids, anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, procyanidins, and resveratrol.  Grapes also contain a high number of these phytonutrients which is why the notion that red wine was beneficial in people with heart disease came about.  I would have to insist that there are better sources, however!

While we encourage the ingestion of organic berries and natural juices as part of the daily diet, in our ever-increasingly toxic world, it may still be hard to keep up with antioxidant demand.  The use of extra Vitamin C with polyphenols is easy to do, well tolerated, and some extra insurance toward healing and health maintenance. There are only rare occasions in which something like this would be contraindicated, such as chemotherapy or a specific allergy to any of the components.

The antioxidant products I often recommend include polyphenols, like Polyphenols + C Protect, as this product works to protect against the impacts of toxins, as well as helps to establish a healthier immune system. The use of co-factors that work to activate enzymes so that the antioxidants can go in and effectively do their job is also helpful when supplementing. Some of those co-factors include B vitamins, selenium, carnitine, and Coenzyme Q10. Thus, using an antioxidant-rich product in combination with glutathione (which is depleted in most mold sufferers), and a product containing B vitamins and nutrients for calming the nervous system can help any therapy work better. Finally, there are many helpful inflammation-lowering herbs that are also antioxidant-rich, liver- and neuro-protective, and can be combined with other mold-illness treatments. Milk thistle, turmeric, and Schisandra are some of my favorite herbs in this category and can be found in combination formulas, like Adrenal Boost (which also contains B vitamins) and MycoDetox Liver Support. And, while no one supplement is right for all patients, I do find that well-balanced combination formulas seem to be more easily tolerated and helpful as they address more than just one facet of the healing process at once.

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