Healthy People

Radical Defense

Without antioxidants, you may be more prone to cancer and neurological or cardiovascular problems.

Advertisers promote them. The American Heart Association recommends eating foods that contain them. Without antioxidants, you may be more prone to cancer and neurological or cardiovascular problems. While antioxidant science is far from settled, OSU researchers have identified sources and are learning how these micronutrients promote health by curbing “free radicals.”

Berry good sources

In 2002, a highly cited paper by an OSU research team led by Ron Wrolstad and Balz Frei documented antioxidant concentrations in 107 varieties of blackberries, red and black raspberries, blueberries and currants. Top-ranked for antioxidant pigments (anthocyanins): black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis)

First line of defense

In a paper that has become a citation classic, Balz Frei reported that vitamin C acts as a powerful antioxidant in human plasma. He showed that it quickly disarms lipid-damaging “free radicals,” thereby preventing “bad cholesterol” from going rancid and contributing to heart disease.

One-two punch

In a series of papers, Maret Traber and OSU colleagues have shown that in humans, vitamins E and C team up to pack more antioxidant punch than either does alone. They also showed that when taken as a supplement, vitamin E must be accompanied by fats to be absorbed by the body.

Gene regulator

Lipoic acid acts as a powerful antioxidant in laboratory experiments (in vitro), but it plays other roles in the human body. Tory Hagen has reported that it regulates genes that stimulate production of glutathione, one of the body’s own antioxidants, and the transport of antioxidants into cells. It thus provides a long-term means of staving off oxidative and toxic stresses.

Heavy metal

Zinc is the most abundant intracellular trace element in the body, contributing to immune function, reproduction and oxidative stress response. In 2009, a team led by Emily Ho reported that a lack of zinc induces single-strand DNA breaks and leads to oxidative stress in otherwise healthy men. The findings confirm that zinc plays a crucial role in the body’s own antioxidant defenses

For more information

See the Micronutrient Information Center at OSU’s Linus Paul Institute. LPI, one of the nation’s first two NIH Centers of Excellence for Research on Complementary and Alternative Medicine, specializes in the study of micronutrients. Researchers above are affiliated with LPI and the colleges of Science, Agricultural Sciences and Health and Human Sciences.

Funding support

National Institutes of Health (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institute on Aging)

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Collaborators’ home institutions, including OSU

For more information, see these OSU news releases:

Study Citing Antioxidant Vitamin Risks Based on Flawed Methodology, February 27, 2007

Studies Force New View on Biology, Nutritional Action of Flavonoids, March 5, 2007

To support the Linus Pauling Institute and antioxidant research at OSU, contact the Oregon State University Foundation.

By Nick Houtman

Nick Houtman is director of research communications at OSU and edits Terra, a world of research and creativity at Oregon State University. He has experience in weekly and daily print journalism and university science writing. A native Californian, he lived in Wisconsin and Maine before arriving in Corvallis in 2005.