Earlier this month I spoke with Clinical Nutritionist Josh Gitalis on the topic of plant-sourced antioxidants.
Antioxidants are part of what make Moringa amazing. It has an extraordinary quantity of these age-defying, disease-fighting compounds.
Most of us understand antioxidants in a broad sense, but people like Josh understand at the molecular level. I asked him to break it down. What he had to say about the plant-origins of antioxidants is fascinating - and galvanizing. After speaking with Josh, I felt a heightened appreciation for berries and greens, and I had to seek out raw cacao, stat.
Every moment of every day, we’re exposed to free radicals, both exogenous and endogenous. The exogenous variants come from sunlight, chemicals, toxins and the like. Endogenous free radicals are the unstable agents we manufacture within our own bodies.
The fact is, we need them. For one, free radicals kill pathogens. What’s more, they’re unavoidable. Free radicals are the byproducts of a life fuelled by oxygen.
A certain quantity of free radicals, we can handle. The problem is, we’re typically exposed to more than we can disarm.
As Josh explains, a free radical at a molecular level is like a lost child, alone in a crowd. It’s missing an electron. It knows itself to be incomplete and runs rampant, causing chaos at a cellular level.
Antioxidants step in to quell the chaos. They convert an unstable molecule with a dangerous charge into a civil, orderly molecule, balanced and self-contained.
One way antioxidants do this is by lending the free radical its missing electron. There are other mechanisms, as well; antioxidant action is complex, to say the least. In effect, the result is that free radicals are “quenched”.
“If you think of a spark in a woods,” explains Josh, “That spark is like a free radical. It has the potential to cause a lot of damage. Antioxidants quench the spark.”
Lucky for us, antioxidants are found in abundance in plant foods. But why is that? What reason have plants for producing compounds so advantageous to our health and longevity?
Plants are not, in fact, thinking of us when they produce antioxidants. Surprise, surprise. Lacking teeth and claws, venom and the capacity to flee threats, plants very cleverly produce phytonutrients as protection from their own predations: from other encroaching fauna, from fungi, bacteria, parasites and even the sun’s radiation.
“When we consume these phytonutrients they afford us benefits very similar to those enjoyed by the plant. Moringa, for example, contains phytonutrients that protect it from the sun’s rays, and that in turn can protect us from ionizing radiation. Radiation damages DNA. It causes cancer. So, moringa is something you could take before an x-ray or CT scan, before or after flying,” says Josh.
It’s not just on rare medical or travel occasions that we need protection. We live in the orbit of a giant star that constantly emits radiation. In the course of basic biological tasks, like metabolism, we generate the very free radicals that are our own undoing.
According to Josh, “One of the theories of aging is that it’s just free radical damage.”
There are a number of different mechanisms by which antioxidants confer protection. Certain antioxidants, for example, keep fats from going rancid in the course of exposure to oxygen.
Josh explains, “All of our cells are surrounded by a lipid membrane, and those fats are very susceptible to free radicals - toxin damage, for example. Moringa protects the cells from lipid oxidation, which is important because cells, too, can go rancid. If you have a lot of really good oils in your diet - flax oils, for example - but too few antioxidants, then you don’t have a protective mechanisms for fats. The fats in the membrane of your cells can go rancid.”
Free radicals, unquenched by antioxidants, cause benign - though certainly unwelcome - signs of aging in the form of wrinkles and sagging. But more importantly, they damage our immune systems, cause degenerative diseases and promote cancer.
There’s a set of antioxidants that together become more powerful than any individual antioxidant working alone. This antioxidant “network” has a synergistic effect. When all five members of this network are present together in the body they help to recycle each other and they each perform specialized tasks, the result of which is more effective protection against aging and disease.
“Together these antioxidants are much stronger than the sum of their parts,” says Josh.
We know from Dr. Monica Marcu’s comprehensive study (Miracle Tree, 2013) that moringa contains three members of the network - vitamin C, vitamin E and glutathione. Moringa also delivers two of the “network helpers”, selenium and flavonoids.
A good way of testing the antioxidant properties of a food is the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) test, explains Josh. “The ORAC test helps us understand the capacity of antioxidants to scavenge free radicals.” One of the highest-scoring foods, says Josh, is raw cacao.
Raw cacao has an ORAC score of 95,500 (umole per 100 grams). Moringa leaf powder comes in at 157,600, according to a test conducted by independent lab Brunswick Laboratories. Moringa also outscores acai berries by 50% in antioxidant power.
“What’s significant about Moringa is its nutrient-density,” says Josh. “One of the biggest problems with the Standard American Diet is that it’s calorie-dense but nutrient-poor. Superfoods and many powerful herbs flip this equation: they have few calories, but are incredibly high in nutritional values. Superfoods help us to replenish the nutrients otherwise lacking in our diets.”
But why do some plants develop such intense levels of antioxidants, like moringa? It all has to do with their environment, Josh explains. Plants that contend with the harshest environments tend to have the most concentrated antioxidants.
“Some of the best medicines come from areas where plants need major protection to survive, like herbs that flourish in the cracks of roads. The best medicinal roots grow at very high altitudes, where they’re completely exposed to the elements. The antioxidants they produce are a self-generated form of protection.”
What Josh says explains why Moringa is so lavishly endowed, nutrient-wise. The Moringa tree is native to the Himalayan mountains of northern India. It thrives in some of the harshest environments, including deserts. Moringa is drought-resistant and pushes down deep roots to draw up evasive nutrients from the furthest reaches of the soil.
Compare this with crops that have been industrially-cultivated, genetically-modified, and de-fanged by decades of pesticide use. Staple crops have given up their natural defenses under conditions of artificial, externally-generated protection. Moringa, in contrast, remains replete with the natural antioxidants it has generated for millennia. If these powerful compounds have helped moringa survive harsh conditions, we feel sure it will help us, too, in defending ourselves against aging and disease.
We’re grateful to Josh for furthering our understanding of this amazing plant. Josh has no vested interest in Moringa - he’s a consultant and a teacher with an emphasis on evidence-based treatment. As the evidence mounts in support of Moringa as a natural medicine, we hope we’ll hear more from Josh on the subject.
Josh Gitalis, Clinical Nutritionist, is a recognized expert in the fields of clinical detoxification and therapeutic supplementation. He runs a Toronto-based private practice, with a worldwide client base. As a leader in his field, Josh teaches Clinical Nutrition for several natural health colleges and is the first Canadian nutritionist to be accepted into the Institute of Functional Medicine where he is currently pursuing his certification as an Institute of Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner (IFMCP). Josh is a noted expert for various media outlets including CTV News and CityTV. See more at: http://www.joshgitalis.com/about/#sthash.N6lJrEYA.dpuf