Antioxidants: Things You May Already Know And Some Things You Probably Don’t!

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Antioxidants protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. What’s a free radical you ask? A free radical is a harmful molecule that causes damage to the body’s cells and may contribute to aging. Some experts believe that this damage also plays a role in the development of some diseases including atherosclerosis and cancer. Free radicals come from a variety of sources. They come about naturally as by-products of normal body processes or when certain medications are metabolized. You are also exposed to free radicals through pollutants in the air.

A useful metaphor to understand antioxidants and free radical damage is to think of the paint on an old car. As the paint is exposed to the elements, it slowly breaks down or becomes oxidized and you can see the effects of the oxidation in the way the finish looks faded and dull. Think of free radical damage as having a similar oxidative effect on your cells, and antioxidants as protection from that damage which happens on a continuous basis through daily living.

Vitamin C and vitamin E are considered antioxidants as is the mineral selenium and plant based nutrients known as flavonoids. Of course, eating lots of fruits and vegetables are a good source of these antioxidants. Berries in particular are high in antioxidants (especially blackberries and blueberries). Also notably high in antioxidants are apples, plums, prunes, grapes, raisins, oranges, peaches, mangoes, melons, and artichoke hearts. Walnuts and pecans are also high in antioxidants and of course dark chocolate is famously high in antioxidants. But there are also many culinary herbs that are incredibly potent antioxidants, so the more of these herbs you add to your food the better! Many of them have other added benefits as well. Some examples of antioxidant herbs that do double duty…

  • Cloves have antimicrobial properties and are the strongest of all the antioxidant culinary herbs
  • Cinnamon is a potent antioxidant and also helps metabolize sugar
  • Oregano has antibacterial and antioxidant properties and can speed up the production of white blood cells
  • Turmeric and ginger are potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant herbs

Other culinary herbs that are good sources of antioxidants are cumin, dried parsley, curry, sage, mustard seed, black pepper, thyme, marjoram, and chili powder so spice it up! India is known for having a lower incidence of most diseases, possibly because of the heavily spiced foods common in the Indian diet. So make your way to Bombay Clay Oven or Little India here in Denver for some curry or masala. Or better yet, learn to cook some delicious Indian dishes at home! Onward with our antioxidant discussion….

Dr. Shah’s favorite antioxidant is astaxanthin which is a red carotenoid. It is a uniquely superior antioxidant because it filters into every cell of the body. And its unique molecular lipophilic and hydrophilic properties allow it to saturate the entire cell, protecting both the fat soluble and water soluble parts of the cell. A 2007 study found it to be 6,000 times stronger than vitamin C, 800 times stronger than CoQ10, and 550 times stronger than green tea.

Astaxanthin is what makes salmon, shrimp, lobster, and crab pink or red in color. Astaxanthin also has a variety of other benefits in addition to being a great antioxidant. A naturally derived supplement made from microalgae is the best way to get all of the benefits. Eating the seafood mentioned above gives you a little but doesn’t give you enough to be considered a therapeutic dose. There have been hundreds of medical research experiments showing the health benefits of astaxanthin supplements sourced from microalgae as well as extensive safety trials. And unlike beta-carotene, an orange carotenoid, astaxanthin never becomes pro-oxidant or damaging to the body in higher doses. Just make sure you are taking a supplement with only microalgae as the source of astaxanthin. 12 mg per day is an optimal dose, however it is expensive so you may want to take less.

The other benefits of super-antioxidant astaxanthin:

Relieving pain and inflammation—Similar to the often prescribed drug Celebrex for arthritis and acute pain, Astaxanthin has been proven to block the COX2 enzymes responsible for pain signaling but without the risk of addiction, heartburn, or GI bleeding. It has also been proven to reduce C-reactive protein (CRP) by more than 20 percent in only 8 weeks. (CRP is a marker for inflammation and the American Heart Association names it as a key indicator of heart disease.)

Eye health—Astaxanthin has the unique ability to reach your retina with its antioxidant goodness. Clinical trials have shown that it helps with retinopathy, macular degeneration, eye strain, and even helps you read fine print. Dr. Shah has noticed the improvement in his eyesight since taking Astaxanthin.

Great skin and sunscreen protection—there are consistent studies showing that Astaxanthin is excellent for helping maintain skin moisture, smoothness, and elasticity. And it actually reduces UV damage from the sun so take it with you (along with your sunscreen, of course) to the beach or your favorite Colorado hiking trails!

So there you have it, folks! Hopefully you have learned something you didn’t already know about the wonderful world of antioxidants. If you have any questions about antioxidants or nutrition, please drop us a line at (Note: Dr. Shah has no financial interest in the manufacture or sale of any astaxanthin products.)

Omega-3’s… What are they and why are they good for you?

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February is Heart Health Month!

Should I take an Omega-3 supplement for my heart or should I just eat more fish? What if I am vegetarian or vegan? And what are the other benefits of Omega-3’s?

No doubt by now you’ve heard a lot about Omega-3’s. You may have wondered—should I take a supplement? If so, does it really matter which brand I choose? Or should I just incorporate more Omega-3’s into my diet? What exactly do they do? What if I’m vegetarian or vegan and don’t want to eat fish or take a fish oil supplement?

Well, wonder no more! Here’s an all-inclusive look at how Omega-3’s function in the body and what diseases they may help you to stave off, as well as information about increasing your Omega-3 intake whether you are vegetarian/vegan or not.

Omega-3 fatty acids regulate cellular processes as well as producing and balancing hormones. Hormones are critical to the proper functioning of all the body’s systems. Think of them as messengers who tell the body and the brain what to do as far as metabolizing food, sleeping, mood, reproduction, and so on. Omega-3’s also increase cell membrane permeability for better nutrient absorption into the cells and they also help keep toxins out of your cells for better cell health and longevity. Healthy fats are also important in helping the body absorb fat soluble vitamins A, D, and E, and K (from food or from supplements).

Your body does not produce Omega-3’s, they come only from your diet or from supplements. There are two Omega 3’s, known as EPA and DHA. In addition to their role in hormone production and cell permeability, Omega-3’s are also anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is the source of almost all disease including heart disease so increasing your Omega-3 intake is a great way to lower your risk of heart and other diseases.

The potential heart health benefits of Omega 3’s:

  •  Helps with lowering blood pressure
  • Helps with lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol
  •  Helps with keeping the heart beating regularly
  •  Helps reduce the risk of a heart attack
  •  Helps reduce the risk of stroke by thinning the blood

Some additional potential benefits of Omega 3’s:

  •  Can help with balancing blood sugar which helps curb sugar and carb cravings thereby lowering the risk of diabetes and obesity
  •  Supports myelin sheath strength (the fatty acid layer that covers nerve fibers in the brain)–this helps with brain synapse function for better mental focus and brain health
  • Can help with memory and with reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease which is again related to inflammation
  • Can help with ADD, ADHD, and dyslexia
  • Can help maintain a positive mood
  • Can help with mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder– for mood disorders, you should take a high EPA fish oil supplement
  • DHA supplementation was shown in one study to reduce stress and aggression
  • Can help with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis– for arthritis, it is best to take an Omega 3-6-9 combination supplement
  • Can help with gastro intestinal issues such as constipation, IBS, colitis, and Crohn’s disease—for GI problems, it is best to take an Omega 3-6-9 supplement

Consuming more wild caught fish, grass fed meat, and nuts (especially walnuts) is a great way to increase your Omega-3 intake although taking a supplement is an easy way to get a consistent, optimal dose. A 1000 mg. daily dose of fish oil (usually one soft gel) is probably sufficient if you don’t have a particular health problem although you can do up to 4000 mg. daily for maximum benefit or if you have a specific health condition. Fish oil soft gels can be frozen if stomach upset or “fish burps” occur.

If you decide to take a supplement, it’s important to take a high quality supplement. With cheaper brands, it’s likely that the oil was not kept cool during processing which causes it to oxidize and degrade. Once fish oil becomes rancid, it becomes pro-inflammatory rather than anti-inflammatory. Natural FactorsTM manufactures a cost effective, high quality Omega-3 supplement if cost is a concern. There are many other brands of high quality fish oil, however.

TIP! Take Vitamin C with your fish oil! It’s an inexpensive antioxidant that will help keep the fish oil fresh for maximum benefit as it travels through your digestive tract. And Vitamin C has the added benefit of helping build collagen to keep your skin looking firm and your blood vessels, muscles, and bones stronger!

Omega-6’s were mentioned earlier in reference to Omega 3-6-9 supplements. People are often confused about Omega-6’s. There are two, one called GLA and another called arachidonic acid. GLA is anti-inflammatory and most people do not get enough in their diet. Arachidonic acid is pro- inflammatory and most people get too much in their diet. So increasing both your Omega-3 and Omega-6 GLA intake helps to counteract the pro-inflammatory arachidonic acid that most people get too much of in their diet. Another benefit of GLA is that it’s great for your skin. It can help your skin stay moist in our dry climate here in Denver and can help with skin conditions such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis. Supplementation (borage or evening primrose oil) is the easiest way to increase your GLA intake although hemp seeds and hemp oil are good dietary sources of both Omega-3’s and GLA.

Finally, for people who are vegetarian or vegan it is even more important that you incorporate extra Omega-3’s into your diet as a vegetarian diet is typically low in Omega-3’s. In addition to the benefits already mentioned, the Omega-3 DHA is important for avoiding neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease which can be a higher health risk for vegetarians/vegans later in life. Eating lots of nuts can help, especially walnuts, as well as hemp seeds and hemp oil. And there are several vegetarian DHA supplements derived from algae although they are fairly expensive. Look for the brand name Ovega-3TM for a vegetarian supplement containing both DHA and EPA.

If you have any questions about Omega-3’s, you can send us an e-mail at