Welcome to Part 2 of our series on antioxidants! To read Part 1, click here.
If you have questions about the health benefits of antioxidants you’ve come to the right place.
Antioxidants have long been touted as powerfully healthy compounds, yet the specifics remain unclear.
Studies that look at the effects of tocopherols, beta carotene and vitamin C (antioxidants) have often found little difference between the antioxidant intervention, and the placebo. But that isn’t the whole story.
These look at the effects of isolated antioxidants, or in some cases, combination supplements (that are still isolated, just combined in a capsule). While this is a great way to control for variables, it doesn’t give you a real world picture.
We understand that the action of antioxidants prevents free radical damage, and have observed that those who eat a diet rich in antioxidants have fewer incidents of disease. Whether it is from other phytochemicals in the foods being eaten, teas being enjoyed, etc., or from their antioxidant content, perhaps the need to differentiate that is moot.
Recall that the term “antioxidant” is not referring to a specific component, but rather indicates a chemical property that the constituent has. For example, quercetin, is an anti-inflammatory flavonoid that has antioxidant action and is found in herbs such as Tulsi and Rooibos.
Antioxidant Q & A’s:
How do Antioxidants work?
Antioxidants act to neutralize free radicals, and prevent damage caused by them. Read the details here, in Part 1 of our antioxidant series.
What are ORAC levels?
ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity and is a scale to gauge antioxidant units. The higher the ORAC values, the higher the antioxidant level. These numerically quantify the antioxidant capacity of the compounds in a given substance. Instead of telling us how much beta carotene, or quercetin is in the substance, a test is conducted to see how many free radicals the whole food substance can neutralize.
This provides a more natural approach because it looks at the plant as a whole, rather than isolating individual parts. It also makes it easier to compare apples to oranges, literally! Or lemons perhaps. ;-)
Can antioxidants lower cholesterol? Can they help with cardiovascular disease?
According to the Mayo Clinic, antioxidants are thought to have cardio-protective action, partly due to their ability to lower “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. Clinical trials have shown mixed results.
The Cleveland clinic looked at the results of several studies and concluded that the isolated antioxidants either had little to no benefit or potentially caused harm, however they then stated that consuming antioxidant rich food sources is different.
These contain other nutrients (with antioxidant action) that are not found in vitamin supplements, and are still linked to reduced cardiovascular disease (which includes cholesterol-related ailments). So, enjoy that tea!
Can they lower blood sugar?
There are about 800 plants (that we know of) that may have anti-diabetic potential (according to ethnobotanical reports). Herbs such as cinnamon, and adaptogenic herbs such as Tulsi have blood-sugar regulating action. Flavonoids, which have powerful antioxidant action are also known to have hypoglycemic action.
Chamomile, tulsi, rooibos, and green tea all contain flavonoids, and purple tea is especially rich in Polyphenols - a class which includes flavonoids, which may account for their varying hypoglycemic actions.
Can antioxidants cause miscarriage?
Miscarriage appears to be associated with oxidative stress, so eating foods containing antioxidants can actually reduce the chances of miscarriage. I would caution against things that are extremely high in polyphenols during the third trimester, as consuming large amounts is associated with arterial birth defects. Eating a balanced diet and choosing teas that are safe for pregnancy is fine and will support the health of both mom and baby.
Are antioxidant vitamins good for you?
No, at least not based on clinical trial findings. Antioxidant vitamin supplements are often synthetic, and isolated, meaning they lack the synergy of other nutrients. Synergistic nutrients include buffers that can prevent unwanted side effects. Taking supplements to make up for a diet lacking in whole-food sources of antioxidants can become problematic.
Can antioxidants aid weight loss?
This requires a more… round-about answer. Recall that whole food sources of antioxidants are best. The short answer would be yes, they can. But not if you buy a bottle of antioxidant supplements and carry on with the same lifestyle.
A diet high in antioxidant-rich foods equals a diet flush with healthy fruits and vegetables. When eating a balanced diet, watching portion control, and getting sufficient amounts of exercise, weight loss becomes easier.
Furthermore, many botanical foods are high in fiber and nutrients, but low in calories, meaning you feel full sooner and longer, and your body receives the nutrients it needs without having to over-eat. Finally, many herbs and teas have appetite-suppressing properties, which will also aid in weight loss.
Can antioxidants be harmful or cause disease?
Good news! When getting antioxidants in levels naturally occurring in plants, no. The only trials that have associated potential harm with antioxidants looked at isolated compounds (usually in large amounts).
Example: consuming a cup of coffee is not harmful, whereas taking caffeine pills is associated with much higher risk. Rest assured: consuming antioxidants in their natural, balanced states found in foods is safe, and is associated with a myriad of health benefits.
A Note From The Herbalist...
Antioxidants are a critical part of a healthy diet. It is my firm belief - based on years of study in biology and physiology - that our bodies never do anything wrong. Every uncomfortable symptom is simply a result of our incredible body doing its best to correct problems and get back to center.
I incorporate antioxidants via teas and whole plant-based foods into my daily diet as a way to help give my body fighting tools and “reinforcements” to help it maintain optimal health! Not only are they healthy, but they are also delicious and I look forward to my tasty, antioxidant-rich “treats” every morning!
Here are some of my favorite antioxidant-rich teas:
Sweet Dreams Honeybush Chamomile, a sweet and floral tea that sends me straight to sleep, plus has a huge number of antioxidants (ORAC of 2700!)
Deep Breath Rooibos Tulsi, a perfect after lunch tea, as the Tulsi both relaxes and stimulates, which helps me focus, and the Rooibos adds something extra to the Tulsi flavor that I just love.
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Antioxidants References and Further Reading
Anand David AV, Arulmoli R, Parasuraman S. Overviews of Biological Importance of Quercetin: A Bioactive Flavonoid. Pharmacogn Rev. 2016;10(20):84–89. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.194044, accessed 17 August 2019.
Udayakumar R, Kasthurirengan S, Mariashibu TS, et al. Hypoglycaemic and hypolipidaemic effects of Withania somnifera root and leaf extracts on alloxan-induced diabetic rats. Int J Mol Sci. 2009;10(5):2367–2382. Published 2009 May 20. doi:10.3390/ijms10052367, accessed 17 August 2019.
J. Perinatol, Zielinsky, P., et al. Dr. Pack's Summary #322 "Maternal Consumption of Polyphenol-Rich Foods in Late Pregnancy and Fetal Ductus Arteriosus Flow Dynamics." Polyphenols in Pregnancy and Fetal Ductus Arteriosus. 2009 Jul 30. (Epub ahead of print.) Fetal Cardiology Unit, IC/FUC, Porto Alegre, Brazil, accessed 17 August 2019.
And of course... All of the information regarding the herbs, botanicals, minerals, vitamins, etc., is information drawn from traditional use data or academic research and should be regarded as such. If you, the reader, has a health or medical concern, please consult your healthcare professional. The information found here is not meant to diagnose, treat, prescribe or cure and has not been evaluated by the FDA. The information here is for educational use only.