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Antioxidant Level Dynamics

Using an argon laser to measure human antioxidant levels in real time, researchers uncover how fast stress can deplete the body and how slowly it takes to restore antioxidant levels

November 11, 2009 |
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OK, here’s another fascinating study. Published last year in the Journal of Biomedical Optics and comes straight out of science fiction. They used an argon laser to measure, in real time, the levels of antioxidants in people’s bodies. Antioxidant substances in living human skin.
We know that eating fruits and vegetables boosts our antioxidant levels, while stress eats up our stores of antioxidants causing our levels to drop, but how fast does this all happen? What are the dynamics of it? We didn’t know, until this study.
While they were taking measurements they had people take diaries—when they were sick, tired, eating tomato sauce, up partying all night. And so they came up with graphs like this, tracking antioxidants levels and linking them to life events. So here for example, things are going fine, then stress at work. Eats more fruits and veggies, but then starts not getting enough sleep, boosts fruit and veggie consumption, then gets a bad cold—drops him way down before starting to recover.
Their most important finding was that antioxidant levels can plummet within 2 hours of a stressful event, You get stuck in traffic, agitated, breathing in car exhaust and your body starts using up antioxidant stores left and right. Takes 2 hours to lose, and can take up to 3 days to get our levels back up again. So the take-home message is that especially when we’re sick, stressed, or tired, we need to be soaking our bodies in antioxidants, which means fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack, and sipping green tea all day long.
They’ve actually used this same laser technology to tightly correlate the development of wrinkles with low antioxidant levels in the skin, so even if you don’t care what’s going on inside your body, you should eat healthy for the outside too.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on antioxidants. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

For some context, please check out my associated blog posts: Acai to Zucchini: antioxidant food rankingsThe Best Way to Prevent the Common Cold?, and Hibiscus Tea: The Best Beverage?

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on antioxidants. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

  • Strix

    Wow, fantastic info. It seems stress and emotional turmoil can cause so much damage. This reminds me of how we know things intuitively, or perhaps even literally seeing the consequences of things such as this, yet are told there is no “evidence.” Glad to see the evidence coming through! Thanks for providing it — and in realtime!

  • Becky Austin

    Dr. Greger,

    What do you think of this research?

    They do agree with you about vitamins, but seem to undermine the helpfulness of any antioxidents when treating cancer.