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Issue 175: Antioxidants and Genes

The Amazing Avocado

Antioxidants already have some notable health benefits. For example, antioxidants are known to protect cells from free radical damage. Free radicals, by the way, are highly reactive molecules capable of damaging cells and tissues. Free radicals are increased by an unhealthy diet, stress, pollution, illness and more and are major players in ill health as well as in the acceleration of the normal aging process

Additionally, the more free radicals that form, the more antioxidants are needed to neutralize them and their damaging effects. The good news is that antioxidants fight against free radicals continually because free radicals are continually formed in the body. It’s no wonder, then, that there’s great interest in the health benefits that antioxidants offer—and now there’s promise of even more to the story—at least for these two antioxidants: circumin, found in turmeric; and hesperidin, found in orange juice.

You most likely know turmeric as a popular spice, but researchers took it a few steps further. Scientists from the Centre de Clermon-Ferrand/Thiex in Saint Genes Champanelle, France, sought to discover the compound responsible for turmeric’s ability to protect arteries from fatty buildup. Not only did they discover the compound, but they also found out the mechanism behind its protective actions.

The compound is a member of the ginger family and is a polyphenol—a naturally occurring antioxidant found in plant foods that offers health benefits. It's a major compound of turmeric called curcumin. Interestingly, Dragan Milenkovi, Ph.D., leader of the study and research team, explained to the American Heart Association’s Basic Cardiovascular Sciences Conference that curcumin may limit oxidative stress and inflammation. Specifically, they administered a daily curcumin supplement to mice for 16 weeks, after which, the mice had a 26 percent lower level of fat deposits in the aortic root compared to the control group. This effect, by the way, wasn’t related to the effect on blood fats or antioxidant capacity.

At the conclusion of the study, however, the researchers isolated RNA (ribonucleic acid) samples from the aorta to examine how curcumin affected gene expression. The researchers found that the curcumin positively altered expression of 2,252 genes involved in cellular signaling and adhesion; immune function and inflammation; and metabolic processes such as fat metabolism and oxidative changes. The researchers added that many of these expressed genes have important cardiovascular functions.


Now, onto the next antioxidant discovery. . .

Another French research team based at the Centre de Clermont-Ferrand/Thiex had a similar experience with hesperidin, an antioxidant found in orange juice. They conducted research on 24 human males who had cardiovascular risk factors, but were otherwise healthy. The results? Researchers discovered “a trend toward improved blood pressure and better function of the endothelium” in the men who consumed hesperidin via orange juice or supplements. Endothelium, by the way, is the inner lining of blood vessels. What’s more is that they found that hesperidin positively affects activity of 1,820 genes from white blood cells.

Dr. Milenkovic is quick to mention that, while both of these research studies gleaned positive effects and could be beneficial for health, that supplements of the two ingredients could be unhealthy at high doses. Likewise, Dr. Thomas Force, professor of medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and a spokesman for the American Heart Association, notes that more studies need to be done prior to any dietary recommendations.

The preliminary findings are astounding and far reaching, however, for these two antioxidants. You can bet this opens the door to further research.


This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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