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Aug 2014

Natural Herbal Health Foods

The key to health is internal. Herbs long in use by humanity have been tested for generations and in some cases thousands of years. Modern scientific fads like diet sodas are punted as good for you when the marketing drive is going ahead and before the science from data has been established. Now in 2013, perhaps a decade later, many negative health impacts have been discovered.

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Health herbal theme

This site looks at dietary solutions to physical health, with an emphasis on antioxidants and nutraceuticals in the diet. Antioxidant levels of foods are now commonly compared and measured as ORAC units (often as ORACS per 100g).

A wide selection of commercial high antioxidant and high orac products are now readily available.

 

Nutraceuticals is a generic description of food composites containing natural and biologically active phytochemicals with disease-preventing and life sustaining functions when acting alone or in combination.

Reactive oxygen species (ROS), such as singlet oxygen (O2), hydroxyl radical (OH), superoxide anion  O2-  and peroxyl radical (R–OO) can be generated from normal metabolism in the human body, and can cause DNA damage, cancer, cardiovascular disease and aging. Antioxidants can reduce the damage of ROS to the human body. Therefore, intake of vegetables could significantly decrease the death rate of cardio- and cerebro-vascular diseases, immune dysfunction and cancer (Sun, et al., 2007)

phytochemicalsNever in the history of humanity has there been the understanding of the role of antioxidants and nutraceuticals in the aging process and also the availability of affordable antioxidant foods and additives. Today, with a little understanding, we can optimise the health benefits associated with the inclusion of the correct mix of antioxidant and phytochemical (phyto meaning “from plants”) containing foods and supplements in our daily diet. Hundreds of these phytochemical antioxidants have been discovered.

This site looks at mostly herbal nutritional (dietary) solutions to maintaining health, but will include contributory aspects such as exercise requirements and other nutritional requirements such as omega fatty acids. Do not forget the humble prune and its powers.

 

Most Commonly Known Antioxidants

  • Vitamin A and Carotenoids
    • Carrots, squash, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, kale, collards, cantaloupe, peaches and apricots (bright-colored fruits and vegetables!)
  • Vitamin C
    • Citrus fruits like oranges and lime etc, green peppers, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, strawberries and tomatoes
       
  • Vitamin E
    • Nuts & seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, vegetable oil and liver oil
  • Selenium
    • Fish & shellfish, red meat, grains, eggs, chicken and garlic
  • Other Common Antioxidants
  • Some common phytochemicals:
  • Flavonoids / polyphenols
    • soy
    • red wine
    • purple grapes or Concord grapes
    • pomegranate
    • cranberries
    • tea
  • Lycopene
    • Tomato and tomato products
    • pink grapefruit
    • watermelon
  • Lutein
    • dark green vegetables such as kale, broccoli, kiwi, brussels sprout and spinach
  • Lignan
    • flax seed
    • oatmeal
    • barley
    • rye
  • Vitamin-like Antioxidants
    • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
    • Glutathione
  • Antioxidant enzymes made by the body
    • superoxide dismutase (SOD)
    • catalase
    • glutathione peroxidase

ORAC

Foods that score high in an antioxidant analysis called ORAC may protect cells and their components from oxidative damage that cause ageing. Specifically, it measures the degree and length of time it takes to inhibit the action of an oxidizing agent.

ORAC is  short for oxygen radical absorbance capacity. It is measured through a test tube analysis that measures the total antioxidant power of foods and other chemical substances. Early findings suggest that eating plenty of high-ORAC fruits and vegetables, such as spinach and blueberries, may help slow the processes associated with aging in both body and brain.

FRAP and TEAC Assay

Total antioxidants can be assessed by the reduction of Fe3 to Fe2 (i.e., the FRAP assay), which occurs rapidly with all reductants with half-reaction reduction potentials above that of Fe3/Fe2. The values, therefore, expressed the corresponding concentration of electron-donating antioxidants.

The FRAP assay is the only assay that directly measures antioxidants or reductants in a sample. Other assays are more indirect because they measure the inhibition of reactive species (free radicals) generated in the reaction mixture, and these results also depend strongly on the type of reactive species used. The FRAP assay, in contrast, uses antioxidants as reductants in a redox-linked colorimetric reaction. Furthermore, the other assays, but not the FRAP assay, use a lag phase type of measurement. This has been difficult to standardize in previous experiments and has generated varying results among different laboratories.

Another method to measure antioxidant level is “TEAC” (Trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity).

Manage nutritional stress and dietary imbalances

Modern Lifestyles are stressful and rushed, while the foods we eat, coming from the supermarket shelf, often lack the nutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants of farm fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs, even if we eat correctly. We all know the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables and a balanced diet, both in maintaining health and in preventing future health problems. Today, the understanding of the need for a balanced diet is well established. We all know the need for the correct type and amounts of vitamins, oils, proteins and carbohydrates. Unfortunately, our schedule makes it difficult for us to eat as we should and get the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day.  Very few people can claim, in this modern, technological world, to be eating foods as fresh as our hunter-gatherer or subsistence farmer ancestors ate. The route of fresh fruit and vegetables from the farm field or garden to our home is long, reducing the nutritional value of these fresh products.

An additional food component is antioxidants that counter the deterioration of various body processes that cause ageing.

Antioxidant

An antioxidant is a substance or food, like prunes, red grapes, Rooibos Aspalathox, and black strap molasses, that helps prevent or delay oxidative damage caused by reactive oxygen and or reactive nitrogen species. Oxidative damage to the body, cells and tissues may contribute to diseases like cancer and heart disease. Fruits, vegetables, oils, nuts and whole grains have varying levels of antioxidant compounds like carotenoids, lycopene and the vitamins C and E. Flavonoids and phytochemicals, found in foods of plant origin, also act as antioxidants.

Essential dietary antioxidants (Milner, 2000) are:

Nonessential, but often equally effective antioxidants are glutathione, small peptides and a host of phytochemicals (thousands in food supply).

We could categorise these as a range of “chemopreventive” agents:

  1. Micronutrients
    • vitamins, beta carotene,
    • minerals like molybdenum, calcium
  2. Phytochemicals
  3. Synthetics
    • vitamin derivatives
    • piroxicam
    • tamoxifen

The USDA recommends an intake of 3000 to 5000 ORAC units/ day. Research shows that the average person generates about 5000 ORAC units of free radicals each day, but only obtains about 1250 ORAC units of antioxidants through the diet. Foods like cocoa have very high ORAC values, making them an important supplement.

Cell damage caused by free radicals contributes to ageing and to degenerative diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, cataracts, immune system decline, and brain dysfunction. Free radicals have been implicated in the pathogenesis of at least 50 diseases (Halliwell, 1994).

The problem with today's modern diet

Our modern dietary appetites are driven by consumer advertising. Many people are depend on fast convenience foods. These are often rich in fats, carbohydrates and sugar, and low in natural vegetables and fibre. These foods usually lead to weight increases, raised cholesterol levels, and worsened digestive and colon problems in later years. We may also eat food in the wrong combinations, or eat habitually, not heeding our true appetite signals or scientific advice.

Many over-processed foods are loaded with chemicals and preservatives and have a low nutritional value, especially low in essential trace elements and vitamins. The human digestive system, when overloaded with fatty non-nutritious foods, doesn't assimilate enough quality nutrients properly. Under these conditions, the body becomes starved for more nutrients, triggering appetite and compulsive overeating. Without exercise, extra calories stay on as fat. Overweight people often remain trapped in this cycle, a difficult one to break. The body’s desire to satisfy its antioxidant needs may drive an eating binge. Foods with high antioxidant levels such as red grape juice can temper appetite if taken a few minutes before a meal.

Basic principles related to antioxidants and diet

  • Poor food quality and a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk for nutritional deficiency, deterioration of bodily functions and the development of degenerative diseases.
  • Oxidative stress is believed to be an important factor in ageing and many age-associated degenerative diseases.
  • Dietary antioxidants are important in modulating oxidative stress of ageing and age-associated diseases.
  • Certain antioxidants from phyto-nutrients (fruits and vegetables) can reverse brain damage in animals.
  • A high level of antioxidant capacity in the blood is important. This is measured using a method called oxygen absorbance capacity assay (ORAC).
  • Diseases like anorexia nervosa, AIDS-encephalopathy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and diabetic polyneuropathy significantly decreased the total antioxidant capacity in serum (Ri, 2003). This is probably due primarily to malnutrition and secondly to insufficient antioxidant and a weakened immune system.
  • Many experts suggest a high intake of fruits and vegetables to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, two of the the leading causes of illness and mortality in today’s baby boomers and their parents.
  • ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) is used to measure the "antioxidant power" of foods and other chemical substances. It shows which food, vitamin, nutritional supplement, or chemical’s has the best ability to protect against potentially damaging free radicals and so to act as an "antioxidant."
  • The higher the ORAC value, the greater the "antioxidant power." However, different antioxidants have different effects on the body. Lycopene is recognised as protecting against or decreasing the chances of developing prostate cancer.
  • We need around 3,000 to 5,000 ORAC units per day to have a significant impact on plasma and tissue antioxidant capacity. An average American’s diet is short of 2000 to 4000 ORAC units each day! This deficit may not be felt in the short period, but the long term effects, in tissue damage, diminution of our cognitive performance and nutritional related diseases is certain.
  • Some of the diseases related to improper diets includes, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, cataracts, macular degeneration, osteoporosis, arthritis.
  • Essential oils have high ORAC values, but their ingestion is considered dangerous by aromatherapists.

References

  • Sun, T., Tang, J., & Powers, J. R. (2007). Antioxidant activity and quality of asparagus affected by microwave-circulated water combination and conventional sterilization. Food Chemistry. 100 (2), 813-819.
This site refers to evidence-based information about dietary supplements, and is not intended to provide specific medical advice. This information has not  been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The information on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional. This site does not endorse or test products, nor does it verify the content or claims made, either implicit or explicit. ABC does not accept responsibility for the consequences of the use of this information or its most up-to-date accuracy. (Refer to Disclaimer)
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