Powerful new evidence for antioxidants in heart and brain health.
Plants and animals alike have powerful, innate tools for protecting cellular health; among them are the powerful free-radical scavengers, antioxidants. Recent science reveals that many antioxidant compounds play additional, major roles in supporting cell physiology and function. Research, for instance, is now showing that a number of plant anthocyanins, compounds often associated with antioxidant benefits, support various aspects of mitochondrial function within cells, a likely mechanism for their heart-protective benefits.(1) Emerging research furthermore indicates that a number of plant-based compounds directly contribute to the maintenance of telomere length, a reliable predictor of aging and the risk of age-associated chronic diseases.(2)
Whatever their mechanisms may be, ingredients falling under the antioxidant umbrella continue to show clinical benefits. New research on olive polyphenols, N-acetylcysteine, pine bark extract, and CoQ10 indicate that these ingredients support heart health, the vascular system, and the brain.
1. Liobikas J et al., “Anthocyanins in cardioprotection: A path through mitochondria,” Pharmacological Research. Published online March 30, 2016.
2. Freitas-Simoes TM et al., “Nutrients, foods, dietary patterns and telomere length: Update of epidemiological studies and randomized trials,” Metabolism, vol. 65, no. 4 (April 2016): 406â415
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Olives on the Offense
Polyphenols from olives are known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. European scientists led by Alvaro HernÃ ez conducted research to assess the benefit of a low-polyphenol versus a high-polyphenol olive oil for LDL cholesterol concentrations and LDL atherogenicity in men.(3) Twenty-five healthy men aged 20-59 years consumed 25 ml/day of a low-polyphenol (2.7 mg/kg) or high-polyphenol (366 mg/kg) olive oil for three weeks.
At the end of the study, plasma levels of apolipoprotein B (apo B-100; a measure of lipoprotein production from the liver) and the number of total and small LDL particles (the most atherogenic of LDL particles) decreased in the high-polyphenol group. Mean decreases in apo B-100 were 5.94%, while the number of total LDL and small LDL particles decreased by an average of 11.9% and 15.3%, respectively. By contrast, the group consuming the low-polyphenol olive oil saw increases in all three measures, indicating the protective nature of olive oil polyphenols for heart and vascular health.
3. HernÃ¡ez Ã et al., “Olive oil polyphenols decrease LDL concentrations and LDL atherogenicity in men in a randomized controlled trial,” The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 145, no. 8 (August 2015): 1692â1697
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N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is an amino acid that is a precursor for glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant. NAC has also been found to reduce homocysteine levels, a risk factor for heart disease. The magnitude of NAC’s benefit has not been studied in a comparative fashion in conditions of elevated oxidative stress, however, such as in smokers and in those with elevated cholesterol.
Recently, Wulf Hildebrandt and colleagues from Germany reanalyzed data from two double-blind, placebo-controlled studies to determine NAC’s impact on plasma homocysteine levels and blood pressure in those with elevated versus normal blood lipid levels, as well as in smokers versus non-smokers.(4)
They found that NAC supplementation (1.8 g/day for four weeks) significantly lowered homocysteine levels by an average of 11.7% and decreased systolic blood pressure in all subjects regardless of smoking or lipid status. Additionally, reductions of diastolic blood pressure were seen in those with elevated blood lipids. The authors suggest that NAC should be considered for prevention of vascular events related to high-homocysteine and arterial hypertension.
4. Hildebrandt W et al., “Oral N-acetylcysteine reduces plasma homocysteine concentrations regardless of lipid or smoking status,” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 102, no. 5 (November 2015): 1014â1024
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Pycnogenol is a unique proanthocyanidin-rich extract from French pine bark that has antioxidant benefits. Gianni Belcaro and colleagues in Italy recently evaluated the cognitive benefits of Pycnogenol in healthy people aged 55-70 with elevated oxidative stress levels.(5)
In the study, 150 subjects were screened, and 44 were found to have elevated levels of oxidative stress. Another group of individuals with comparable levels of oxidative stress was followed as a reference. Pycnogenol supplementation (100 mg/day) for 12 months significantly improved measures of cognitive function, attention, and mental performance compared to reference controls. Furthermore, measures of oxidative stress were significantly lower (by an average of 28%) at 12 months, with no corresponding change in control subjects. Pycnogenol, therefore, significantly improved cognitive function and lowered oxidative stress in healthy individuals aged 55-70.
5. Belcaro G et al., “The COFU3 Study. Improvement in cognitive function, attention, mental performance with PycnogenolÂ® in healthy subjects (55-70) with high oxidative stress,” Journal of Neurosurgical Sciences, vol. 59, no. 4 (December 2015): 437â446
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CoQ10 for the Heart
CoQ10 is a coenzyme best known for its effects on mitochondrial function and its role in the production of energy as ATP. CoQ10 plays a major role in the health of heart tissue. Recently, Nasim Bagheri Nesami and colleagues from Iran evaluated the anti-inflammatory effects of CoQ10 in individuals with mild hypertension.(6)
In the 12-week, placebo-controlled study, 60 hypertensive patients were given 100 mg of CoQ10 daily or a lactose placebo. Inflammatory markers were evaluated at baseline and after the 12-week study period. Levels of adiponectin, an anti-inflammatory protein involved in glucose and fatty acid metabolism, were significantly higher in the CoQ10 group than placebo. Additionally, levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-6 and C-reactive protein significantly decreased, supporting the anti-inflammatory benefits of CoQ10.
6. Bagheri Nesami N et al., “The effect of coenzyme Q10 supplementation on pro-inflammatory factors and adiponectin in mildly hypertensive patients: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial,” International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, vol. 85, no. 3-4 (2015): 156â164
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