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How Much Antioxidant Protection Do You Really Have? / August 23, 2001 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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How Much Antioxidant Protection Do You Really Have?

By Judy McBride
August 23, 2001

The orange and red plant pigments beta carotene and lycopene score high as antioxidants in the test tube. But their antioxidant capacity seemed to disappear in human blood.

Not any more. A new assay that peers into blood lipids shows that these antioxidant nutrients have been doing their job in our blood all along.

Beta carotene, lycopene and other fat-soluble antioxidants hang out in the lipid portion of human plasma. But popular assays measure antioxidant capacity of the water portion only, where vitamin C and other water-soluble antioxidants settle. Oxidation events generally begin there, but the chain reactions they set off readily cross over into the lipid portion of plasma and vice versa.

The new assay, which measures oxidation in both environments, gives a truer picture of total antioxidant capacity of biological samples, according to Kyung-Jin Yeum. She is a nutritionist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, which is funded by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

Ultimately, the assay will help health professionals better recommend the antioxidants an individual needs to boost protection against heart disease, cancer and other age- related diseases. These are believed to evolve, in large part, from cumulative oxidative damage to cell components.

Giancarlo Aldini, a chemist at the University of Milan in Italy, developed and validated the assay with Yeum and her colleagues at the Boston center. The researchers named the assay SOLAC--for selective oxidizability of lipid and aqueous compartments. By early next year, they plan to have the lipid and aqueous parts of the assay--both done in a fluorescence detector--combined into a single run and automated to handle about 100 samples at a time.

They are gearing up to assay plasma samples from two large-scale population studies to look for correlations between true antioxidant capacity and heart disease or eye disease. If they find correlations, results from SOLAC could serve as a biomarker for risk of these diseases.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

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