Antioxidants And Pesky Free Radicals

Written by: Kevin Cann

            We have all heard about free radicals and antioxidants.  Understanding the mechanisms of both within our bodies is an important factor when we are deciding the foods to make as staples of our diets.  All diseases increase free radicals.  So this means if we up the vitamin c supplementation then we will live forever?  Not so fast.

Studies have shown that when an antioxidant is administered alone it does not protect against DNA damage caused by free radicals.  One such study was published in the British Journal of Nutrition.  This study gave one group of participants orange juice and another group a sugar drink with vitamin c added.  The study concluded by saying that there were no observable changes in the sugar drink with added vitamin c, but the orange juice showed protection against DNA damage and they believe the phytochemicals of foods are the reason (Guarnieri, 2007).

Phytochemicals are what separates fruits and vegetables from grains. According to the previous study this means all the fortified bread products are not protecting us from free radical damage.  Grains that are poorly digested will actually increase free radical damage due to their ability to cross the gut lining and cause an inflammation response.  This increased oxidative stress can actually increase our risk for disease.  Taking a multivitamin is not the answer to long term health either.  A supplemental antioxidant is in and out of the system within an hour.  When our genes turn on our adaptive stress response, it can actually stay on for days.  Exercise is a good example of this.  We cause oxidative damage while exercising that turns on our adaptive stress response.  We build more muscle tissue and mitochondria to adapt to that new stressor.  This all takes time.

Phytochemicals are what plants utilize to protect themselves.  There is always an adaptive war going on between species.  Plants develop these for protection and our bodies then will be forced to adapt to counteract them and so on.  These phytochemicals in plants will turn on our adaptive stress response.  These phytochemicals actually cause oxidative stress and our system has to respond.  Acetylcarnitine communicates with our cells and turns on our vitagenes.  Vitagenes in studies have been shown to have strong protective qualities including the ability to kill off cancer cells and to prevent neurodegeneration (Calabrese, 2009).

The generals behind this cell communication are called transcription proteins.  Transcription proteins come in all kinds of shapes and sizes so that they fit directly with specific nutrients and hormones.  Once the protein combines with the nutrient or hormone it can enter the cell and alter the cell’s DNA.  In terms of our adaptive stress response Nuclear Factor Kappa Beta (NF-KB) and NRF2 are the important ones.

Natural antioxidants from plant matter tend to down regulate NF-KB2 and free radicals increase it.  An increase in NF-KB is strongly associated with cancer growth.  NRF2 on the other hand has been associated with protection from cancer and other stress related diseases (Bellezza, 2010).  NRF2 looks for free radicals and upon their discovery turns on the antioxidant enzymes.

Our lifestyle choices are what turn these transcription proteins on and off.  Choosing a diet rich in phytochemicals can help increase our protective NRF2 transcription proteins and protect us from the stress related diseases that plague us as a country.  Eating fortified foods and taking a multivitamin will not have the same health benefits as eating foods where these nutrients are found naturally.  Some food choices that have been shown to increase NRF2 are broccoli, cauliflower, onions, garlic, green tea, and coffee.  Melatonin, ALA, CoQ10 also elicits a response from NRF2.




Bellezza, Ilaria (2010).  NRF2 and NF-KB and their concerted modulation in cancer pathogenesis and progression.  Cancers.  Retrieved on August 17, 2012.

Clabrese, V (2009).  Vitagenes, cellular stress response, and acetylcarnitine: relevance to hormesis.  Retrieved on August 17, 2012.

Guarnieri, Serena (2007).  Orange juice vs. Vitamin c: effect on hyrdrogen peroxide induced DNA damage in mononuclear blood cells.  British Journal of Nutrition.  Retrieved on August 17, 2012.



Kevin is owner of Genetic Potential Nutrition. He is a holistic nutritionist, wellness coach, and strength coach. He works with people fighting illness, to competitive athletes. Check out his site at

Categories: Anti inflammatory diet, General


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  1. Ben says

    Thanks for this post. I’m wondering if you have any alternative food recommendations for people with digestive issues. With the exception of green tea, my IBS has a field day with broccoli, cauliflower, onions, garlic, and coffee.

    • Stuart says

      Hey Ben. I have ulcerated colitis and IBS. I have recently discovered the low FODMAP diet. Check it out, Dr Sue Shepherd and Dr Peter Gibson have published a book, “food intolerance management plan”. The book has a website . I have followed aspects of it, mainly in cutting out specific foods, and my condition has improved out of sight. My colitis is much better and the IBS gives me few issues.

    • duff gordon says

      The most successful product that lets your IBS heal is branded Donnatal . IN LIQUID .My 23 year old daughter
      used it out of desperation and in a few weeks the
      complaints stopped as she started to get her dad’s
      grouchiness back. In the 70’s it was in the top 25 of all medicines, but now it’s just a niche product . The downside is that it has a hint of sodium barbital. Check out the co and they will help you get started. If you start chugging it because “It makes me feel alive!! then smash the bottle on the road. Know THyseif above all else

    • Kevin Cann says

      Even if wheat is able to extract more nutrients from the soil, are the farming techniques used actually maintaining those nutrients? My guess would be the soil the wheat is grown in is deficient in nutrients. This is the case for a lot of veggies and fruits too. The carbohydrates supplying the high percentage of calories is true, but I will argue this is where we got into trouble. No one is properly preparing grains to accomodate that amount of calories in their diet. From there we get inflammation, high blood glucose, etc. Another important note is most of us do not have good gut health in terms of the bacteria that reside there. Wheat products will feed the opportunistic pathogens and this includes the fiber. Our good gut flora needs the fiber from fruits and veggies to thrive. There wasn’t data to support it, but I am assuming this is where the author was going with the good for heart piece. In the end it is always important to look at eating as a way to nourish our bodies. Veggies and fruits are much higher in vitamins and minerals then even properly prepared grains. If I am eating to nourish myself, I am selecting the most nutrient dense foods and those are fruits, veggies, and root tubers as my carb choices.

  2. says

    This is a really interesting and well put essay. It took me by surprise to know that multivitamins and more specifically vitamin c don’t prevent free radicals from harming your body.

    Would your recommendation be to try and find the vitamins in minerals in or food, or to supplement them with a multivitamin. Would I be achieving the same result by doing either of those things?

    Thanks so much for the great research and insight!

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