ANTIOXIDANTS: NATURE'S ARSENAL AGAINST AGING

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ANTIOXIDANTS: NATURE'S ARSENAL AGAINST AGING

THE CHILDREN OF THE SIXTIES ARE AGING -- THEIR WAY. UNLIKE THOSE OF THEIR PARENT'S GENERATION, WHO OFTEN ATTEMPTED TO HIDE THE RAVAGES OF TIME WITH HAIR COLOR, COSMETICS AND FACE-LIFTS, MANY ARE ADDRESSING THE AGING PROCESS FROM THE INSIDE OUT. IT'S NOT JUST VITAMINS AND WORKOUT EQUIPMENT. SUDDENLY, DESIGNER ANTIOXIDANTS ARE ENJOYING A BOOM.

CONFRONTING HER FIFTIES, A TRAUMATIC DIVORCE, AND A DOUBLE MASTECTOMY, SANDRA SCRANTON LISTENED WITH HALF AN EAR WHEN TWO FRIENDS RECOMMENDED THAT SHE BOLSTER HER IMMUNE SYSTEM WITH Pycnogenol(R), an antioxidant from pine bark. "Not in this lifetime!" she said.

But just before surgery, at the suggestion of an herbalist recommended by her cancer support network, the Danville, California, woman began taking 40 mg. twice a day. In addition, the herbalist recommended a potent multivitamin and Chinese herbal medicines containing frankincense, myrrh, licorice, ginseng, and dandelion.

"Immediately I was calmer," Scranton said after the surgery. "I think that I'm recovering more rapidly and have more stamina. Whether I can attribute this to the Pycnogenol or the Oriental medicine, I don't know. But my friends who have taken Pycnogenol say they feel better, less agitated, calmer, and peppier."

Pycnogenol is among the latest in a growing arsenal of antioxidants that combat disease, degeneration, and symptoms of aging. In their book Pycnogenol: The Super "Protector" Nutrient, researchers Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D., and Chithan Kandaswami, Ph.D., say Pycnogenol can relieve arthritis, improve circulation, treat diabetic retinopathy, strengthen collagen, relieve respiratory problems, and protect against cancer and heart disease. It's reputed to be many times more powerful than the best-known antioxidants -- vitamins C and E and beta-carotene.

Pycnogenol and a similar bioflavonoid extract from grape seeds are suddenly being marshaled to battle an ever-growing army of scavengers that wreak havoc on the body. These enemies are called free radicals. These loose cannons of the metabolism and aging process are unpaired oxygen electrons that attack healthy cells and DNA, causing a dangerous chain reaction. The result is oxidation and deterioration.

When aging machinery oxidizes, it rusts and falls apart. When humans age, the proliferation of free radicals triggers not only wrinkling, but also cancer-causing mutations, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders. Smoking, stress, sun, pollutants, and food additives exacerbate free-radical activity.

Fortunately, humans are not machines, and so they're fighting back, tackling the aging process from the inside out. Determined to live younger and healthier longer, they're changing their thinking about what it means to be middle-aged, discovering new strength and wisdom at each milestone. Fifty has changed its face and its attitude, becoming a time of renewal, not resignation.

OLDER, WISER AND STRONGER: THE TREND TOWARDS HEALTH

Many approaching midlife and beyond are shattering age-old stereotypes, starting exercise and meditation programs and getting rid of stress and toxic habits. They're adopting diets high in natural antioxidants -- green and yellow vegetables, fresh fruits, grains. They're taking megadoses of vitamins C and E and beta-carotene. And they're flocking to health food stores and herbalists for high-potency antioxidants:

- Sales of Pycnogenol, grape-seed extract, and other proanthocyanidins are rising.

- Alpha lipoic acid, a vitaminlike metabolic antioxidant, has recently been introduced to the U.S. market. Studies show it enhances the antioxidant qualities of vitamins C and E and glutathione.

- Electrolyzed superoxidant/antioxidant water, used in Japan to treat diseases from diarrhea to diabetes to fungal infections, is just taking off in this country.

- Melatonin, long recommended for jet lag and sleep disorders, is now being viewed as an antioxidant and possible shield against cancer, heart disease, and even Alzheimer's disease.

- Chinese medicines containing antioxidants and extracts that reputedly bolster longevity are catching on in the West.
- Vitamin producers are putting together exotic antioxidant formulas containing extracts from red wine, green tea, bilberry, and silymarin milk thistle seeds.

Like most people who take high-powered antioxidants, David Bierman, a Berkeley, California, environmental building inspector, was already taking vitamins A, C, and E and selenium. Several months ago, he added grape-seed extract.
"I don't feel as run down. I don't get as blown out by environmental exposure, which I get a lot of," said Bierman, who gets into basements and pulls out vents while checking for environmental hazards. "I'm exposed to massive amounts of environmental toxins, mostly in the form of chemicals and toxins generated by molds. My liver has to deal with all that. So I need many forms of detoxifiers."

Bierman said he chose to take grape-seed extract because it costs less than Pycnogenol, which is patented and produced from a maritime pine tree in Bordeaux, France, where it was discovered by Professor Jacques Masquelier.
Some health practitioners prefer grape-seed extract to Pycnogenol because it may contain slightly more OPCs or proanthocyanidins and because it contains gallic acid, an antioxidant.

Prices of both extracts vary. One national health food chain in San Francisco was selling a sixty-capsule bottle of 50 mg. Pycnogenol for $47, while several blocks away, a fifty-capsule bottle of the same strength was $22.35. At the second store, a fifty-capsule bottle of 100 mg. grape-seed extract was $28.99, while fifty-capsule bottles of 50 mg. generic pine-bark extract were $19.80.

Loren Ritter, president of R Pur Aloe in Broomfield, Colorado, sells and recommends both. "There is a difference," he said, noting that clients with sensitivities tend to do better on Pycnogenol, but that most people do well on grape-seed extract. "They are both very good products."

Ritter said his allergies improved once he added Pycnogenol to his regime. However, he takes far less than the milligram per pound of body weight commonly recommended. He said most people need to start out at one-quarter or one-half that dosage, gradually working up to one milligram per pound. After a month or so, they can ease off to a milligram count equal to about one-third their poundage, since the effects of proanthocyanidins last up to three days.
Solgar Vitamin and Herb Company, based in Leonia, New Jersey, also markets Pycnogenol and grape-seed extract, as well as generic pine-bark extract and an all-purpose antioxidant containing extracts of green tea, red wine, ginkgo, and bilberry. "We don't single out Pycnogenol," said Carl Germano, director of product development/technical services. "We see the whole class as being very exciting and hot."

Physicians and researchers emphasize that Pycnogenol and proanthocyanidins are not magic bullets. "Antioxidants are an important part of any wellness plan, playing an important role in protecting the body from the damage of free radicals," said Dr. Barnet Meltzer, a physician based in Del Mar, California, with a practice in clinical preventive medicine. But they're "an adjunct." "There's no substitute for good nutrition, no substitute for a high-fiber, low-fat diet," he said. "Supplements are tricky. Americans want a quick fix. Healing is a multidimensional process. No one vitamin is going to take the place of changing your attitude, your lifestyle, your nutritional program."

Meltzer cautioned against taking higher-than-recommended dosages of proanthocyanidins or bioflavonoids without medical supervision. "You can often overtreat yourself to the point that you don't assimilate (nutrients)."
Dallas Clouatre, a Berkeley, California, author and health industry consultant, also said antioxidants must be taken over an extended period to provide maximum protection against heart disease, cancer, and other degenerative disorders. "It's difficult to undo damage once it has begun."

Like Meltzer and Clouatre, Dr. Lewell Brenneman, a San Francisco physician who treats chemically sensitive patients, believes a good diet is the first line of defense. But it may not be enough. "Several thousand chemicals that have never been on this earth before are evolving every month," he said, and the body has not developed natural defenses. As a result, he said, supplements may be critical to living better longer.

Antioxidant pioneer Dr. Lester Packer, a professor of physiology at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the Molecular and Cell Biology Department, is also convinced. "I do believe that antioxidants are good for health -- they extend a healthy lifespan or health span," he said. "You're being irradiated all your life by free radicals -- the damage is always there. But there are processes that repair."

Packer did major research on alpha lipoic acid, a fat- and water-soluble antioxidant that bolsters the antioxidant abilities of vitamins C and E -- and facilitates glucose metabolism. It's present in foods, including red meat and potatoes, but not in sufficient quantities to provide antioxidant benefits. "It is one of the few natural antioxidants that has been neglected," said Packer, who is less convinced about Pycnogenol and proanthocyanidins. Alpha lipoic acid costs less than Pycnogenol: One leading brand sells thirty 50 mg. tablets for $14.95, sixty for $24.95.

One of the most revolutionary antioxidant devices entering the U.S. market converts tap water to antioxidant/superoxidant water. The unit, just being introduced in this country, is manufactured in Japan, where it has been approved by the Ministry of Health for patients with gastrointestinal disorders. It sells in this country for around $1,000.

A Japanese documentary reports that patients drinking antioxidant water experienced not only a decline in digestive disorders, but improvements in diabetic problems, liver functions, circulation, and allergic and skin disorders. The water produced by the unit is also useful in disinfecting and sterilizing surfaces and killing microorganisms on plants and food.
Stanley Arcieri, who is marketing and distributing the units through Mizutek International in Mill Valley, California, said the unit charges the water with negative ions, increasing electrolytes and removing impurities.
"Maybe the key to diseases just involves drinking water," said Arcieri. "I like this because it's so simple."
Article copyright Island Publishing Company, Inc.
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By Janet Silver Ghent

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