by John P. Pratt
©2003 by John P. Pratt. All rights Reserved.
Does your daily food supplement contain 50 mg of lipoic acid? Mine does. Did I even know that name until recently? No. So what's the big deal with antioxidants?
My wife has been taking antioxidants, which I had understood were some kind of immunity booster. I took vitamins and minerals and didn't get sick much, so I figured my immunity was okay. Recently I've read a book which has changed my life by summarizing the vast amount of research which has been done in the past few decades on antioxidants and their role in preventing degenerative diseases.
If you read the Antioxidant Miracle you won't be without antioxidants afterward. Dr. Lester Packer is perhaps the world's leading authority on antioxidants, having pioneered much of the research himself at Packer Lab at U. C. Berkeley over the last three decades. The level of research is not mostly anecdotal, like, "I took vitamin E and my heart didn't hurt as much." Instead, it is at the high scientific level of being able to induce heart disease in laboratory animals by simply withholding vitamin E, and then seeing them improve when it is restored. There are clinical studies involving thousands of patients, which provide overwhelming evidence that antioxidants are major factors in preventing cancer, heart disease, strokes, Alzheimer's disease, arthritis and a host of others.
How long will it take us to get it? To figure out what we need to do to be healthy? To discover that major fatal diseases can be prevented by simple diet and supplements? The answer is often measured in centuries. Consider the killer disease scurvy, caused by a lack of vitamin C:
A.D. 1227: Gilbertus de Aguilla advised sailors to bring ample apples, pears, and lemons to avoid
A.D. 1500's: World explorers Vasco de Gama and Magellan reported losing over half their crew to scurvy.
A.D. 1753: British physician James Lind published his results of testing several supposed cures. He found that sailors with scurvy who ate two oranges and one lemon per day were cured in a few days.
A.D. 1795: British Admiralty begins to require sailors to eat lemons and limes and scurvey ceases to be a problem.
Why did it take 500 years to for sailors to take the advice seriously to eat citrus fruit? And why 42 years after it was published by a physician? Probably because it is hard to believe that such a simple thing as eating an orange can prevent such a horrible disease.
Why are we so loathe to believe the idea today that so many of our killers today such as cancer and heart disease can be prevented by getting enough of the substances found in fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods? Perhaps in the past we had the excuse of a lack of evidence, but today that dodge is no longer an acceptable excuse for neglecting healthy practices. And Dr. Packer points out that a healthy diet is not nearly enough, we need to supplement our modern diets to get the optimum amounts of these antioxidants.
Dr. Packer explains that of the hundreds of known antioxidants, there are five which seem to be the most important, and which operate as a network, meaning that they help balance and recycle each other. Cells are essentially filled with water surrounded by a fatty wall, so both fat and water soluble varieties are important. Two of the network antioxidants are water soluble (vitamin C and glutathione), two are fat soluble (vitamin E and CoQ10), and one (lipoic acid) is both fat and water soluble. The importance of this latter team member has only been known in the last decade. It may be the most important of all and most daily supplement manufacturers don't even include it.
I have made a table summarizing the main results presented in The Antioxidant Miracle , including the optimum amounts recommended by Dr. Packer. It fits well on one page if printed in landscape mode. There are also links to a few bulleted charts below which summarize the importance of each of the network antioxidants and some others.
After reading his book, I went to both grocery and health food stores and hunted for a supplement that had something close to all his optimum amounts of antioxidants, as well as other usual vitamins and minerals. I found none. It is possible to buy most of them separately, but that is very expensive and way too hard for me to open all those bottles twice a day. I found that simply looking for at least 50 mg of lipoic acid is a good test of the entire supplement because few companies have kept up with the most recent research. The best I've found so far are Life-Pak Prime by Pharmanex, which is about $70 per month but is guaranteed to be very high quality, the one by Dr. David Williams which has more in it for about $55, and one you can get at health stores called Life Essence for about $30 per month. Find better if you can, but in any case, if you read his book, you will build up your antioxidant protection. But if you are taking prescribed medication, you should check with your doctor before adding new supplements to your diet to verify compatibility.