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An Abundance of Antioxidant Acronyms PDF Print E-mail
Alphabet SoupIf you're like me, you might feel like you've been dropped in a vat of alphabet soup when you read about anti-aging or antioxidants. I'm no microbiologist or even a whiz at word games, but I'll give a shot at trying to 'splain some of the acronyms involved in the articles about which I post.

Since many of the articles refer to free radicals along with the acronyms, I'll start off by trying to explain free radicals. High school chemistry was a very long time ago, but I seem to remember that there are some molecules that are short an electron - have an odd number, or whose valance (outer shell) is not full. These molecules seek to fill that outer shell by either sharing an electron or by "stealing" some from another molecule. Many metals are such molecules, as is oxygen. That's why oxygen is expressed as O2. Two oxygen atoms bond together by sharing electrons to fill their outer electron shell. We all know that oxygen will combine with metal to create rust. That is oxygen combining with the metals to fill the outer shell.

Here's an article that explains chemical bonding far better than I can.

In our bodies, we need oxygen to fuel cellular energy production, but at the same time, oxygen and other reactive molecules can interact with with cell membranes or even DNA. Our cells can fail to function properly or die prematurely due to such damage. Cholesterol can also oxidize, which contributes to the buildup of plaque in our circulatory system. Luckily, our bodies have a defense against this type of damage. We have some enzymes that scavenge the molecules that need extra electrons & "loan" them some. However, many other free radical fighters are contained in food. These "antioxidants" can bond with the free radicals and prevent or minimize cellular damage.

Besides normal metabolism, there are many environmental factors that increase the amount of free radicals in our bodies, such as:

  • stress
  • smoking
  • pollution
  • sun overexposure
  • radiation

Antioxidant Assays

There are several ways used to measure the function of an antioxidant. All tests are done on samples in vitro, in other words, in a test tube. While the measure gives us a way to compare the foods or supplements, they don't necessarily tell us how effectively they will function in our bodies. Here are some of the more commonly used ones.

FRAP  - Ferric Reducing Ability of Plasma

This test measures the ability of the substance to reduce the concentration of ferrous ions in a mixture of known concentration.

TEAC  - Trolox Equivalent Antioxidant Capacity

This test is based on the suppression of the absorbance of a specific chemical containing radicals. 

ORAC - Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity

This test is probably the most widely used and the one with which most of us laypeople are familiar. It measures the oxidative degradation of a certain fluorescent molecule after being mixed with free radical generators.

What Does It All Mean?

There is no relationship between the measures, so something that measures high on a FRAP test may measure low on an ORAC test. What does that mean? Well, probably that each of the tests underestimate the antioxidative abilities of the measured substance. More importantly, none of these tests have been shown to have a relationship with health benefits. Does that mean we should ignore or throw out the scores we see for things like blueberries and dark chocolate? I think not. It does give us a way to compare things, no matter how imprecise. It also gives us some indication as to what we are consuming.

Many tests have been done on specific antioxidants and few of them have shown measurable health benefits. How can that be? There is so much hype in the media about life extension and antioxidants. I'm no scientist, but it seems to me that the human body is much more complex than a test tube. Extracting a single substance and seeing what effect it will have on health has to be an extremely difficult thing to do. Many things do not pass through our digestives system intact; many things that we consume interact with each other and there may be things that cancel out others, or that add to the effect.

Because of this complexity, my personal philosophy is that we should eat many different things and they should be as close to nature as they can be. In other words, juice is better than an extract, and fruit is better than juice.

This philosophy is reflected in what Antioxidant Alley sells as products. We prefer foods over pills and juices (although we sell some pills and think we have some great ones!) We also don't focus on a single product. Our intent is to have a variety of high-quality and harder to find sources of antioxidants and polyphenols.

*The statements and products shown on this website have not been evaluated by the US Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. The information shown on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other health care professional. You should not use the products or information on this site for diagnosis or treatment of any health problem or for prescription of any medication or other treatment. You should consult with a health care professional before starting any diet, exercise or supplementation program, before taking any medication, or if you have or suspect you might have a health problem.