Oxidative stress is cellular stress that in many situations can be both prevented and remedied through diet and supplements. In oxidative stress, for example, various phospholipids are released from the cell membranes of red cells (erythrocytes) – therefore, the adequate intake of phospholipids either from food or supplements is essential in repairing the damage.
Similar changes are observed especially in glial cells. Indeed, oxidative stress of the brain is one of the cellular phenomena that predispose to various stress-related neurological disorders. Generally, oxidized phospholipids and the cell damage they create can predispose to several chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases.
This article summarizes top 6 dietary supplements that most effectively balance oxidative stress, many of which also have general stress-reducing effects.
In a standard form, turmeric root contains moisture (>9 %), curcumin (5–6.6 %), extraneous matter (<0.5 % by weight), mold (<3 %) and volatile oils (<3.5 %). The most studied ingredient in turmeric is a yellow-colored compound called curcumin, which is derived from the rhizomes (roots) of the turmeric plant. Curcumin can cross the blood-brain barrier and promote the health of brain cells in many ways. Curcumin contains beneficial substances called curcuminoids. In most dietary supplements there are three main forms of curcuminoids: curcumin (77 %), demethoxycurcumin (17 %) and bisdemethoxycurcumin (6 %).
Curcumin is also a very strong antioxidant (especially the standardized preparations BCM-95 and Meriva-SR). Black pepper's piperine significantly improves the absorption of curcumin.
There are hundreds of studies showing turmeric’s numerous health effects. It has been shown to improve the immune system, help cells to fight oxidative stress, increase longevity and boost brain cell growth. It also has remarkable anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-tumor, anti-aging and brain-derived growth factor (BDNF) boosting effects.
Human studies suggest that curcumin can help manage oxidative and inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety and hyperlipidemia. It can also enhance recovery from exercise by reducing exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness (DOMS). Also, a relatively low dose can provide health benefits for people that do not have diagnosed health conditions. Curcumin has also been shown to be effective in long-term use (4 to 8 weeks), especially in the treatment of stress-related depression.
Based on a study in rats, curcumin can also relieve stress by favorably affecting HPA axis function. In addition, it balances the production of the nerve growth factor BDNF in the hippocampus. Similar effects have been observed in pigs.
2. Ubiquinone or coenzyme Q10
Ubiquinone, or coenzyme Q10, is an essential compound in the body. Its name is derived from the Latin word ubique, which means “everywhere”. It plays a very important role in all animals and many bacteria – it is especially found in mitochondria, cell membranes, and lipoproteins. Ubiquinone is fat-soluble in nature and resembles a vitamin in its functions. Ubiquinone plays a key role for example in the electron transfer chain in mitochondria and in the production of ATP. Most of the body's energy needs are created in that system.
Ubiquinone is especially found in energy-consuming organs such as the heart, kidneys and liver, and skeletal muscle. Ubiquinone levels in various tissues are known to decrease with age.
Ubiquinone has been used as a supplement for decades to improve, among other things, energy production in cells. Low levels of ubiquinone in cells can predispose to a wide variety of diseases when aerobic energy production by cells does not function efficiently enough. Heavy and prolonged exercise and training also increase the amount of chronic oxidative stress in the body. The number of free radicals may even triple under physical exertion.
Ubiquinone, together with NADH supplementation, has been shown to repair the mitochondrial energy production chain in chronic fatigue syndrome. Ubiquinone is also a potent antioxidant that increases nerve cell protection against oxidative stress.
Ubiquinone is (or at least should be) now recommended as a dietary supplement for individuals taking statins to lower their cholesterol levels. Studies have shown clear evidence of statins reducing the ubiquinone levels in the body. A particularly problematic example is atorvastatin which can reduce ubiquinone levels by as much as 40 %. Individuals who take statins are encouraged to take 100–300 mg of ubiquinone per day. As of yet, there is no scientific evidence of the muscle pains caused by statins being due to reduced ubiquinone levels, or of ubiquinone supplements alleviating these pains. However, increasing ubiquinone to a normal level has many other health benefits.
Ubiquinone has been found to alleviate heart failure and reduce the mortality associated with it. Proposed mechanisms for this include antioxidant effects and increased energy production in the cardiac muscle cells. The common dose used in studies in association with heart failure is 200–400 mg per day. Ubiquinone use has also been found to improve blood cholesterol levels, however there is currently no clear evidence of it preventing cardiovascular diseases.
Sufficient levels of ubiquinone in the elderly have been shown to prevent sarcopenia (muscle loss). Combining ubiquinone supplements with strength training, sufficient protein intake, and creatine supplements is particularly effective in preventing muscle loss.
3. Omega-3 fish oils
Fish oils contain two biologically active long-chain omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). High-quality fish oil (or cod-liver oil), and in particular E-EPA fatty acid, has been shown to act as an antioxidant to prevent oxidative stress. The use of omega-3 fatty acids (1.25 to 2.5 g / day) may also slow telomere shortening.
In case of sudden stress (i.e. illness), ingestion of omega-3 fish oil may prevent a stress response (cortisol and noradrenaline secretion into the bloodstream). Based on a randomized double-blind study in abstinent alcoholics, even a very small daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA 60 mg/day and DHA 252 mg/day) significantly reduces daily cortisol levels. Regular use of fish oil at significantly higher doses and EPA 1600 mg/day DHA 800 mg/day) significantly decreases salivary cortisol levels. Based on the same study, the use of omega-3 fatty acids can increase muscle mass and decrease body fat mass.
Read more about omega-3s here!
Vitamin C acts as an essential cofactor in several enzymatic reactions in the body, such as the biosynthesis of collagen, carnitine, and catecholamines (certain brain neurotransmitters), and as a major water-soluble antioxidant. Humans are not able to produce ascorbic acid in the body, but it is needed and obtained regularly from food.
Vitamin C is probably one of the best known (if not the best known) vitamins used as a dietary supplement from adolescents to the elderly. For example, a quarter of Finnish women take vitamin C as a dietary supplement, and about a sixth of men (16.7%). In the US, 24 % of adults are taking vitamin C as a supplement (Statista, 2018). Vitamin C is typically used to shorten the duration of the flu. In athletes and actively moving people, the use of vitamin C can prevent the development of the flu. The same effect has been observed in people living in cold environments. In Finland, the recommended intake of vitamin C for adults is 75 mg per day. In the US, the recommendation is 90 mg per day for men and 75 mg per day for women. However, the optimal intake for general health is probably significantly higher (> 200 mg) depending on the individual.
The most important property of vitamin C is its function as an antioxidant to fight oxidative stress. In studies, the typical dose of vitamin C varies between 500 mg and 3,000 mg daily. Based on a rat test, oxidative stress is effectively reduced when vitamin C is taken at least 0.16 mg per kilogram body weight per day (for example, in a person weighing 100 kg, this means 160 mg per day).
The adrenal glands store very large amounts of vitamin C relative to their weight. Prolonged stress may consume vitamin C stores, especially in the adrenal glands. They secrete vitamin C into the bloodstream as a result of stress-induced ACTH secretion from the pituitary gland.
In the event of long-term stress, it may be useful to take vitamin C as a regimen several times a day in single doses of 500 to 1,000 mg. A typical recommendation is 1,000 mg three times a day. Vitamin C can cause stomach upset in some people. This can be prevented by using esterified vitamin C.
Slow-release vitamin C use has been shown to lower subjects' blood pressure and cortisol levels over the two-week trial period, as well as to alleviate subjective stress feelings. According to a meta-analysis published in 2012, regular use of vitamin C lowers blood pressure. Based on animal studies, the use of vitamin C also appears to have preventive effects on stress-induced depression.
Many drugs are known to lower the body’s vitamin C levels. These include birth control pills and aspirin. Vitamin C may block the effectiveness of a blood thinner such as warfarin at high single doses. In general, people taking blood thinners should limit their vitamin C intake to 1,000 milligrams per day.
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals in the body. It is also a vital electrolyte for the body. Magnesium plays an important role in the generation of neuromuscular impulses, DNA synthesis, energy metabolism, and the function of numerous enzymes. It also regulates the metabolism of calcium, potassium, and sodium and is involved in more than 300 biochemical processes in the body. The human body contains about 20–30 grams of magnesium, most of which is inside the cells in the bones (about 50%), muscles (about 30%), and soft tissues (about 20%). There is only 0.3-0.5% magnesium in the circulation and red blood cells.
It is estimated that nearly three-quarters of adults get too little magnesium from their diet. Indeed, mild magnesium deficiency has increased significantly in recent decades. According to an extensive meta-analysis, insufficient magnesium intake is also clearly associated with an elevated silent inflammation in the body.
In Finland, the recommended magnesium intake is 350 mg per day for men and 280 mg per day for women. For example, in the United States, the recommended magnesium intake is higher (420 mg per day for men and 320 mg per day for women). The optimal intake of magnesium varies from person to person. It is affected by age, health status, physical activity, intestinal condition, and the amount of magnesium excreted by the kidneys. As early as 1964, scientists suggested that the optimal magnesium intake should be 7 to 10 mg per kilogram of body weight. Based on this study, for example, a person weighing 100 kg and being very mobile could need up to 1000 mg of magnesium per day. The same review also estimated that less than 6 mg of magnesium per kg body weight could lead to magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium deficiency in the body can lead to high blood pressure, impaired sugar tolerance and conduction defects in the heart. Measurement of magnesium in serum or plasma does not rule out a possible deficiency, as only 1% of magnesium is free in the bloodstream.
Insufficient intake of magnesium is associated with a fairly common vitamin D deficiency, as magnesium promotes the synthesis of vitamin D from sunlight in the skin. Adequate intake of magnesium has been found to reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes, depression, and cardiovascular disease. Magnesium has also been shown to prevent premature mortality.
Adequate intake of magnesium reduces cellular oxidative stress – inadequate intake, in turn, exposes cells to damage caused by free oxygen radicals. According to a study in athletic and sedentary young men, dietary intake of magnesium reduced oxidative stress-induced DNA damage in lymphocytes. Magnesium deficiency has also been found to be associated with a deficiency of the liver's most important internal antioxidant, glutathione.
Ingesting magnesium as a supplement can relieve stress and anxiety. Namely, magnesium decreases the overactivity of the HPA axis and reduces the secretion of cortisol into the bloodstream. In addition, a reduced ratio of magnesium to calcium increases the secretion of catecholamines (e.g., adrenaline) from the adrenal glands. And on the other hand, persistently too high a level of adrenaline in the bloodstream lowers the level of magnesium in the body. Overall, this means that insufficient magnesium intake can predispose to anxiety and dysregulation of the HPA axis.
The most effective forms of magnesium in terms of bioavailability and mode of action for relieving stress and anxiety are magnesium glycinate and taurate. Magnesium glycinate is significantly more efficiently absorbed from the intestines than magnesium oxide, the most commonly used form of magnesium in magnesium supplements.
Taurine is an amino acid that is high in sulfur. The body can form taurine from methionine and cysteine to some extent. However, concerning the physiological needs of the body, the synthesis process is quite slow. Therefore, it is good to get enough taurine from your diet. Taurine is abundant in meat, fish, seafood, and mushrooms.
There is no recommended daily intake of taurine, but in many ways, it is considered to be a very necessary (if not even essential) amino acid. Taurine deficiency has been found to predispose for example to depression, various neurological disorders, and brain dysfunction. Taurine is indeed abundant in the brain and is therefore thought to act as a neurotransmitter. Taurine-related receptors have also been found in various parts of the central nervous system.
Taurine has also been found to be quite a strong antioxidant. However, it differs from other antioxidants in that it does not directly reduce free oxygen radicals, but rather its effect is based on the regulation of oxidation. For example, taurine inhibits the excessive production of free oxygen radicals in mitochondria.
In addition to GABA and glycine, taurine acts in the brain as one of the main inhibitory neurotransmitters. Indeed, the effects of taurine are largely mediated through the GABAergic and glycinergic systems. In animal studies, taurine has been shown to reduce anxiety. In human brain cell culture (in vitro), taurine has been shown to stimulate the development of new brain cells.
This is an excerpt from the forth-coming Resilient Being Book. You can pre-order it here!
What is your favorite supplement to balance oxidative stress? Tell us in the comments!