Your body functions best when it’s in balance; the biological term for this is homeostasis. Basically, this means that while a little of something may be good, a lot of the same thing can be bad.
Your body also functions optimally when it is under some stress. For instance, your muscles grow and strengthen when they are asked to perform. Your immune system creates antibodies when it is exposed to a pathogen. You experience personal growth and development only when you step past the edge of your comfort zone.
Yet, with too much stress, your body can get overwhelmed and damaged. Being exposed to too many free radicals is one example. This leads to oxidative stress, which is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants.1 Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are free radicals that are the by-products of metabolism and they play an important role in cell signaling.
Your body constantly produces ROS. When there aren’t enough antioxidants to keep the number in check, it can result in oxidative stress. This can lead to several health conditions such as neurodegenerative disease, gene mutations, cancer, heart disease and inflammatory diseases.2
Your Body Uses Two Types of Antioxidants
At the molecular level, free radicals have an unpaired electron. This makes them highly unstable, damaging your cellular structures. The damage happens when the free radicals steal an electron from another molecule. This process is called oxidation.3 You can see the visible signs of oxidation when you cut into an apple and let it sit on the counter and watch as the flesh begins to turn brown over the next couple of hours.
In small amounts, free radicals help fight infections, inhibit aging and start wound healing. But in larger amounts they are damaging. Your body has a built-in mechanism to help fight the damage from ROS using antioxidants. These molecules are different since they can donate an electron and remain stable, thus reducing the damage from free radicals.
More than one type of antioxidant is in play when it comes to our defenses. In one group are exogenous antioxidants: These are molecules that are formed in foods and can be absorbed when eaten. Examples I’ve talked about are vitamin C, astaxanthin, flavonoids and polyphenols. Keeping a balance between damaging ROS and antioxidants may also help your body fight infectious diseases, such as flu and COVID-19.
Your body can also form endogenous antioxidants, including superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidases, glutathione and catalase. While getting enough external antioxidants from your food is important, it is the endogenous antioxidants like superoxide dismutase (SOD) that are the first line of defense against ROS.4
Glutathione plays a crucial role in health and fitness. It is an intracellular antioxidant that can improve the activity of other antioxidants like vitamins C and E, CoQ10 and alpha lipoic acid.5 Since glutathione is poorly absorbed from foods,6 it may be beneficial to raise your levels using the precursor N-acetyl L-cysteine (NAC).7
Another powerful antioxidant made inside your body is SOD, which plays a role in a variety of physiological and pathological conditions such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and inflammatory diseases.8 During metabolism, an aggressive superoxide radical is created. SOD breaks this down to hydrogen peroxide and molecular oxygen.9
The accumulation of hydrogen peroxide in the cells is also damaging. At this point in the reaction catalase, another endogenous antioxidant, breaks down the hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen.
Aronia Berry Supplementation Fights Oxidative Damage
SOD is found in every cell of your body as well as between the cells.10 When adequate amounts of this enzyme are produced, you are powerfully protected against the ravages of oxidative stress. However, levels of SOD go down as you age.11 In one review, researchers discussed its importance to overall health and wellness, writing:12
“It has been suggested that proper daily SOD supplementation will protect the immune system and significantly reduce one’s chances of diseases and ultimately slow down aging process.”
SOD is a metalloenzyme, which means it needs a metal ion to work. The ions that researchers have found most commonly bound to SOD include zinc, iron, manganese and copper. Large amounts of extracellular SOD (SOD3) can be found in nearly all human tissue.13 Several places, including the heart, have the ability to transcribe SOD3 RNA from SOD DNA, raising the level of production.14
By reversing the loss of SOD, scientists may be able to have a powerful effect on reducing oxidative stress and therefore lower the potential risk of many chronic diseases. There are two ways to increase it:
Consume a source of SOD to raise the levels
Consume a precursor to help the body boost levels of production
Enter the Aronia berry. In parts of the country they are known as chokeberries, in reference to their sour flavor.15 They come in red and black colors, with the red berries being slightly sweeter than the black. They are a native, perennial, deciduous shrub in North America.16
In a study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), researchers found that chokeberries had 50% more antioxidant activity than other, more common berries.17 In addition to high levels of exogenous antioxidants, Aronia berries can activate nuclear factor erythroid 2–related factor 2 (NRF2), a key regulator of antioxidant action,18 to boost the production of SOD.19
Supplementation with Aronia berry extract reduced oxidative stress in the fruit fly so significantly that it extended the life of the fly by 18%.20 It also reduced oxidative stress and the pathogenesis of colitis in an animal model.21
The berry extract modulated mitochondrial antioxidant activity and upregulated antioxidant enzymes, preventing depletion of reduced glutathione and glutathione peroxidase.
What Affects Your Endogenous Antioxidant Production?
In the search for ways to raise SOD levels, nearly 35 years ago scientists pulled it from the blood of livestock and injected it directly into the joints of people with osteoarthritis. The results showed significant improvement.22 However, other research showed disappointing results and it was not developed for commercial purposes.
When intraperitoneal and oral administration of SOD was compared to naproxen and dexamethasone in an animal model, the results revealed that oral SOD lowered lipoperoxidation.23 In the animals that received the drugs, 20% of those getting naproxen died of hemorrhages in the gastrointestinal tract and 50% of those getting dexamethasone died of pulmonary infections.
The question has remained as to how to naturally increase the amount and activity of SOD in the body. Although some plants naturally produce it, once consumed, the harsh environment of the gastrointestinal tract destroys it.24
It appears that consuming Aronia berry extract could actually increase SOD levels. In one study, researchers engaged 47 participants; 22 were healthy and 25 had metabolic syndrome. The participants with metabolic syndrome were given 100 mg of Aronia extract three times a day for two months.25 This group saw reductions in their blood pressure and cholesterol levels while their SOD levels were significantly raised.
Researchers have also learned that curcumin supplementation can increase SOD, catalase and glutathione peroxidase, all important endogenous antioxidants.26 This same effect was also found in the fruit fly.27
Remember, SOD has to have metal ions to function properly. This is an important consideration for our time, as some people may be taking zinc to protect against COVID-19, flu and other infectious conditions. In a discussion of the importance of the zinc/copper balance, Chris Masterjohn, Ph.D., writes:28
“The negative effect of zinc on copper status has been shown with as little as 60 mg/d zinc. This intake lowers the activity of superoxide dismutase, an enzyme important to antioxidant defense and immune function that depends both on zinc and copper.
Notably, the maximum amount of zinc one could consume while staying in the acceptable range of zinc-to-copper ratios and also staying within the upper limit for copper is 150 mg/d.”
Molecular Hydrogen: A Potent Selective Antioxidant
Molecular hydrogen is yet another important antioxidant. Among the many benefits of using it is the ability to selectively decrease excessive oxidative stress and inflammation.29
As discussed earlier, it’s important to remember that the body requires balance in all its processes, including stress. By inhibiting excessive oxidative stress and damage, molecular hydrogen helps to maintain homeostasis. This means the goal is to neutralize excessive free radicals, but not all of them.
In my interview with Tyler W. LeBaron, founder of the science-based, nonprofit Molecular Hydrogen Institute, he talked about the selective elimination of free radicals. You can see the entire interview in my article, “Molecular Hydrogen — Is it the Best Antioxidant You Can Take?” He comments:30
“Sometimes antioxidants can even exacerbate oxidative stress because they can increase Fenton reaction cycles and redox cycling and end up being potent pro-oxidants. So, it is very complicated, and we have to be very cautious …
One of the reasons we know hydrogen gas could be so safe is because it simply does not have the reductive power or potential to neutralize or react with some of these critical important signaling oxidants, such as hydrogen peroxide, singlet oxygen, superoxide radicals and nitric oxide. It just does not have the ability to react with these, even in vitro, if you just put the two together, they don’t react.”
Molecular hydrogen will react with hydroxyl radical, which is the most reactive and oxidative radical in the body. It is turned into harmless water.31 Molecular hydrogen is inexpensive, has no risk and its potential upside is tremendous. Use the article link above to read more about its benefits.
How to Use Molecular Hydrogen at Home
Molecular hydrogen is absorbed in gas form. As LeBaron and I discuss in our interview, easiest way to get it into your system is to dissolve molecular hydrogen tablets in pure water and drink it. It is important to be sure the concentration is high enough and that the frequency is not continuous.
As LeBaron explained, when exposure to molecular hydrogen is continuous, it is less effective. At this time, further study is needed to determine the best frequency.
Until then, customizing the dose to your personal circumstances may be appropriate. For example, if you live in non-stressful circumstances and are not exercising much, once a day may be enough. On the other hand, if you exercise vigorously, it may be more appropriate to take it a couple of times a day.
The normal dose is one tablet in 500 mL or 16 ounces of water. You want to drink the whole glass as soon as the tablet dissolves and before the cloud of hydrogen gas dissipates. The rate the tablet dissolves will depend on the water temperature. Ideally, use room temperature water so there’s more gas in the water by the time the tablet is fully dissolved.
It’s important to use plain water and not sparkling water, which contains carbon dioxide that will disperse the hydrogen gas faster. The water will take on a milky look from the dissolved hydrogen gas. You’ll want to drink it as quickly as possible while the hydrogen is suspended in water.