Supplements for Managing Oxidation

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

Want to feel better than you’ve ever felt? 

Here’s another excerpt from my 10th book, The Secret of VigorHow to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance and Reclaim Your Natural Energy


Some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year are:

*Lose Weight

*Get in Shape

*Reduce Stress

*Get Healthier

*Win the Lottery


The Secret of Vigor can help you with 4 out of 5 of the most popular resolution goals, so I’ll be posting excerpts from the book for the next several weeks – so please stay tuned for each installment. 

If you simply can’t wait, then you can certainly get a copy at or at your favorite library or bookstore.


Supplements for Managing Oxidation

Antioxidant nutrients are important for controlling the activity of the highly reactive oxygen molecules known as free radicals, because unchecked free-radical activity is what leads to the cellular damage known as “oxidation” and the cycle of glycation and inflammation that follows, causing additional damage and dysfunction. As mentioned earlier when I discussed the “Antioxidant Network,” remember it is the overall collection and balance of small amounts of several antioxidants that is important rather than any single “super” antioxidant. Your cells need representatives of all five major classes of antioxidants to mount the strongest antioxidant defenses: vitamin-E complex, vitamin-C complex, thiols, carotenoids, and flavonoids. Your foods are your best sources of antioxidant nutrients – but if you feel that you need a supplement, don’t go any higher than 100% of the Daily Value for any of the antioxidant vitamins or minerals (more on this below).

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin needed by the body for hundreds of vital metabolic reactions. Good food sources of vitamin C include all citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, lemons), as well as many other fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, peppers, and cantaloupe.

Perhaps the most well-known function of vitamin C is as one of the key nutritional antioxidants, where it protects the body from free-radical damage. As a water-soluble vitamin, ascorbic acid performs its antioxidant functions within the aqueous compartments of the blood and inside cells and can help restore the antioxidant potential of vitamin E (a fat-soluble antioxidant).

Although the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin C has recently been raised from 60 mg to 75 to 90 mg (higher for men), it is well established that almost everybody can benefit from higher levels. For example, the vitamin C recommendation for cigarette smokers is 100 to 200 mg per day, because smoking destroys vitamin C in the body. Full blood and tissue saturation is achieved with daily intakes of 200 to 500 mg per day, and the absorption and activity of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is approximately tripled when supplemented in combination with flavonoids.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is actually a family of related compounds known as tocopherols and tocotrienols. Although alpha-tocopherol is the most common form found in dietary supplements, vitamin E also exists with slightly different chemical structures, such as beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol as well as alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocotrienols—and natural forms of all eight structures are important for overall health.

Vitamin E can be obtained as a supplement in natural or synthetic form. In most cases, the natural and synthetic form of vitamins and minerals are identical, but in the case of vitamin E, the natural form (“d-”) is clearly superior in terms of absorption and retention in the body compared to its synthetic (“dl-”) counterpart (about double compared to synthetic forms).


Beta-carotene is part of a large family of compounds known as carotenoids (which includes more than six hundred members, such as lycopene and lutein). Carotenoids are widely distributed in fruits and vegetables and are responsible, along with flavonoids, for contributing the color to many plants (a rule of thumb is the brighter, the better). In terms of nutrition, beta-carotene’s primary role is as a precursor to vitamin A (the body can convert beta-carotene into vitamin A as it is needed). It is important to note that beta-carotene and vitamin A are often described in the same breath, almost as if they were the same compound (which they are not). Although beta-carotene can be converted to vitamin A in the body, important differences in terms of action and safety exist between the two compounds. Beta-carotene, like most carotenoids, is also a powerful antioxidant and is especially effective at preventing inflammatory damage. The best food sources are brightly colored fruits and veggies, such as cantaloupe, apricots, carrots, red peppers, sweet potatoes, and dark, leafy greens.

Green Tea

Green tea (Camellia sinensis) is the second most consumed beverage in the world (water is the first), and it has been used medicinally for centuries in India and China. The active constituents in green tea are a family of polyphenols (catechins) with antioxidant activity about twenty-five to one hundred times more potent than vitamins C and E. A cup of green tea may provide 10 to 40 mg of polyphenols and has antioxidant activity greater than a serving of broccoli, spinach, carrots, or strawberries. Because the active compounds (the catechins) found in green tea are known to possess potent antioxidant activity, they may provide beneficial health effects by protecting the body from the damaging effects of oxidative damage from free radicals. From laboratory findings, it is clear that green tea is an effective antioxidant, that it provides clear protection from experimentally induced DNA damage, and that it can slow or halt the initiation and progression of oxidation and inflammation. Several epidemiological studies show an association between consumption of total flavonoids in the diet and the risk for inflammatory conditions. Men with the highest consumption of flavonoids (from fruits and vegetables) have approximately half the risk of heart disease and cancer (both are oxidative and inflammatory diseases) compared with those with the lowest intake.


Beta-glucan is a generic term for “beta-1,3-linked polyglucose,” which is a polysaccharide (basically a long chain of sugar molecules) found in the cell walls of yeast cells and some plants. Purified beta-glucan (derived from yeast) is known to help the immune system better fight off infections, cold/flu viruses, and cancer/tumors. When out of balance (high or low), the immune system not only fails to protect the body from invading pathogens (bacteria and viruses) but can even attack it, mistaking the body’s own cells for dangerous pathogens, resulting in oxidative and inflammatory autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Allergies can result when the immune system is “overactive” and mistakes an innocuous and harmless particle (such as pollen or cat dander) for an invading pathogen. Another side effect of an immune system that is out of balance is chronic low-grade inflammation, which can increase risks for cancer and heart disease and other chronic diseases related to elevated inflammation. By controlling and “guiding” the activity of the innate immune system, beta-glucan supplements can help modulate systemic levels of oxidation/inflammation in the body and thus help maintain biochemical balance and improve vigor.

Deadly Antioxidants?

Despite what you just read above about the protective benefits of vitamins C & E, beta-carotene, and beta-glucan, it’s important to understand that antioxidant nutrients can be a problem when they’re supplemented in the form of high-dose synthetic isolated mega-doses. A growing number of research studies are showing that high-dose antioxidant supplements, especially vitamin E, selenium, and beta-carotene may have a dark side, upsetting our body’s natural protective defenses.


As described above and in many of my relier blog entries, antioxidants protect every cell in our body from damage by reactive oxygen molecules called free radicals. Free radicals come from cigarette smoke, car exhaust, and air pollution, but also from exposure to the sun and are even created by normal metabolism every time we breathe. 


Too many free radicals – or too few antioxidants – can wreak havoc on cell membranes and DNA, leading to tissue damage and a wide range of chronic diseases including cancer, arthritis, and heart disease.


Consuming antioxidant nutrients in the form of brightly colored fruits and vegetables has clearly been shown in research studies to be associated with reduced free radical damage and improved health. Unfortunately, the practice of “taking antioxidants” in the form of high-dose vitamin supplements is being linked to more harm than good.


Luckily, new research is also showing how we can encourage our body to protect itself, by turning on it’s own internal antioxidant defense systems. This internal network of antioxidant enzymes is approximately one million times more protective compared to typical antioxidant supplements.


This idea of “making antioxidants” (naturally within our cells) compared to the standard approach of “taking antioxidants”  (in the form of high-dose vitamin supplements) is a fundamentally-different approach to protecting the body from oxidative stress. 


Herbal blends based on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and traditional Indian medicine (Ayurveda) have been shown in recent research studies to enhance cellular production of internal antioxidant enzymes (including superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione) – even when these blends don’t provide antioxidant nutrients.


These herbal blends work by inducing a cellular “switch”  (a transcription factor called “Nrf2”) to increase production of internal antioxidant enzymes. This natural induction of Nrf2 is very much a “master regulator” of the body’s antioxidant response – and the same mechanism at the heart of numerous new biotechnology and pharmaceutical research projects. In many ways, the induction of Nrf2 may really be the future of naturally protecting our body from oxidative stress.


When it comes to optimally-protecting your body by managing oxidative stress, we can all take a range of proactive steps do induce our body’s own protective mechanisms:


1. Stop taking high-doses of any isolated synthetic antioxidant supplements


2. Get Active – because exercise “turns on” a family of internal antioxidant systems


3. Practice intermittent fasting (IF) at least once per month (eat nothing, except water,  for 24 hours) – because IF can also turn on Nrf2 pathways and increase production of cellular survival genes


4. Eat the Right Foods – many foods have a general induction effect on Nrf2, including blueberries, tea, coffee, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, wasabi, and many others.


5. Choose properly-balanced supplements (milk thistle, bacopa, ashwagandha, green tea, turmeric) that have been proven in research studies to induce Nrf2, increase internal antioxidant enzymes, and reduce oxidative stress.


Thanks for reading this blog entry about the first of my “Four Pillars of Health” – Oxidative Stress. The next entry, will be about pillar 2 – Inflammatory Stress.





Shawn M. Talbott, Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACN, FACSM, FAIS

Nutritional Biochemist and Author


The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance, and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

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Killer at Large – Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat – an award-winning documentary film exploring the causes and solutions underlying the American obesity epidemic  (

The Cortisol Connection – Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health (Hunter House) –

The Cortisol Connection Diet – The Breakthrough Program to Control Stress and Lose Weight (Hunter House) –

Cortisol Control and the Beauty Connection – The All-Natural Inside-Out Approach to Reversing Wrinkles, Preventing Acne, And Improving Skin Tone (Hunter House) –

Natural Solutions for Pain-Free Living – Lasting Relief for Flexible Joints, Strong Bones and Ache-Free Muscles (Chronicle Publishers – Currant Books) –

The Immune Miracle – The All-Natural Approach for Better Health, Increased Energy and Improved Mood (GLH Nutrition, 2012) –

The Health Professionals Guide to Dietary Supplements (Lippincott, Williams & Wilkens) –

A Guide to Understanding Dietary Supplements – an Outstanding Academic Text of 2004 (Haworth Press) –


About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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