The Role of Flavonoids and Carotenoids
Luteolin, a flavonoid found in parsley, artichoke, basil, celery, and other foods, has been found to actively scavenge free radicals.42 Perilla leaf, one of the richest sources of luteolin, is known to inhibit inflammation, allergic response, and the production of tumor necrosis factor-alpha.43 In studies involving human cancer cell lines, luteolin greatly sensitized apoptotic cell death induced by tumor necrosis factor-alpha, suggesting a role for luteolin as an anti-cancer agent.44 Luteolin has also been demonstrated to be a potent inhibitor of thyroid cancer cell lines in vitro.45
Carotenoids are brightly colored pigments found in fruits and vegetables. Lutein, an antioxidant in the carotenoid family, is found in the macula, the central area of the eye’s retina. It may act as a filter to protect the macula from damaging forms of light. Lutein is associated with protection from age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older adults.46
Lycopene, another carotenoid, is a potent antioxidant found in its highest concentrations in tomato products. Lycopene has been found to offer protection from prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in men,47 as well as from other cancers such as breast cancer.48 High intake of lycopene has been associated with a reduced risk for heart disease,49 and also helps prevent LDL oxidation.50
Fruits Rich in Antioxidants
Rich in vitamins, fiber, and phytochemicals, fruits are an excellent source of antioxidants12 and may provide protection from cancer by inhibiting angiogenesis.51 Current research suggests that some of the most beneficial health-promoting fruits are blueberries, bilberries, blackberries, cranberries, elderberries, cherries, plums, persimmons, and grapes.
Blueberries have been found to possess powerful antioxidant effects, as measured by their capacity to absorb oxygen radicals.51 In one animal study, supplementation with blueberry extract prevented memory loss associated with brain aging.52 Bilberry is a close relative of the American blueberry. Its ripe berries are a rich source of flavonoids that improve microcapillary circulation, decrease capillary permeability and fragility, and inhibit platelet aggregation.53 Bilberry consumption has been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and with improved visual function.54 Bilberry has also been reported to lower blood glucose levels and to prevent diabetic retinopathy.53
Blackberry extract has been used as a traditional herbal treatment for diabetes.55 In animal models, blackberry extract has demonstrated protective effects against inflammation56 and endotoxins.57 Cranberry has long been known for its efficacy in preventing urinary tract infections.58 Recent research indicates that cranberry may also inhibit the proliferation of certain human tumor cell lines.59 Elderberry extract has been used for centuries to treat colds, flu, sinusitis, and viral infections. Contemporary research confirms its efficacy in supporting a healthy immune system, and suggests possible applications for its use in supporting immune health in people who have cancer or the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).60
Cherry fruit has been used as a folk remedy for gout for many years. Human research indicates that cherries lower plasma levels of urate, a metabolic marker that is elevated in gout.61 Cherry consumption has also been found to lower plasma levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation.61 Plums are a potent source of antioxidant activity, with one serving providing antioxidant protection equivalent to 144-889 mg of vitamin C.62 Persimmon fruit has demonstrated antioxidant and cholesterol-lowering effects in animal studies,63 and components of its extract have shown cytotoxic activity against human carcinoma cells.64 A rich source of dietary fiber, phenolic compounds, minerals, and trace elements, persimmon has been proposed as a valuable component of an anti-atherosclerotic diet.65
Grape seed extract possesses powerful antioxidant effects that protect the body from premature aging and disease.66 Grape seed contains proanthocyanidins, beneficial polyphenol substances whose effects include promoting youthful skin, supporting joint flexibility, and improving vision.66 The proanthocyanidins in grape seed extract may improve blood circulation by strengthening capillaries, arteries, and veins.66
Choosing a Multi-Nutrient Formula
While the market is flooded with multi-nutrient formulas, few stand up to a careful analysis of purity and potency. Many formulas contain only the US government’s recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamins. While the RDA may be sufficient to prevent diseases such as scurvy, extensive studies have demonstrated that promoting optimal health requires nutrients in amounts that far exceed the RDA. Additionally, many of today’s multi-vitamin supplements use components that are inferior in quality compared to the pharmaceutical-grade nutrients used in premium products.
Research also shows that the body more readily uses certain forms of vitamins and minerals than others. Many vitamin combinations on the market today use the cheapest available forms of vitamins and minerals. These are difficult for the body to absorb and use, and thus provide only marginal nutritional support. When choosing a multi-vitamin product, it is advisable to seek not only high potencies of nutrients, but also formulations designed for optimal absorption and use by the body.
Vitamins and minerals play crucial roles in optimizing health and preventing disease, through mechanisms as diverse as maintaining normal homocysteine levels and reducing the occurrence of damaging glycation reactions.
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