Are antioxidants toxic to stem cells? The answer might surprise you....

Volume 12    |   Issue 131

I've told you before that dose is everything. Depending on the dose, any substance can be toxic and any substance can be healthy. Paracelsus theorized this in the 1500s. And Arndt and Schultz won the Nobel Prize for proving it at the beginning of the last century. However, it seems that everyone forgets this very basic concept. We still constantly hear about how this substance is toxic and this one is healthy. Take antioxidants, for example. In the right doses, they're essential to our health. But in the wrong doses they can be harmful. A study just published a few months ago points this out.

The study looked at the effects of free radicals and antioxidants on stem cells. The researchers were growing stem cells in various cultures and examining how well they functioned. As you know, stem cells are important for the repair of damaged tissues and organs. A fat cell can reproduce only another fat cell. A nerve cell can reproduce only another nerve cell. In fact, whatever the cell is, it can reproduce only another cell that is the same type. But stem cells are different. Stem cells are special cells that can turn into any cell depending on what the body needs. That's why they're so critical for healing. And that's not the only thing different about them.

Unlike other cells, stem cells do not like oxygen. They have the capability of using oxygen, but they choose not to. This is probably because when cells use oxygen, they also produce free radicals. And stem cells are extra-sensitive to free radicals. Free radicals, even in very small amounts, interfere with stem cell activity. Researchers in the Molecular Neurology Research Program at the University of Helsinki just recently looked into why this is so. And what they found is very interesting — especially for those who take large amounts of antioxidant supplements.

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The researchers discovered that when stem cells are exposed to small amounts of free radicals, their activity slows down. Apparently, this is the way the body controls their activity — with a small amount of free radicals. However, when the level of free radicals gets too high, they can damage the stem cells to the point that they can't work at all. And that's when your body calls the antioxidant enzyme systems into action. By controlling free radical activity, these enzymes are able to prevent the destruction. So in order for our stem cells to do their thing efficiently, there needs to be just the right amount of free radicals and just the right amount of antioxidants. And that's where the research starts to get really interesting.

As long as the balance between free radicals and antioxidant levels are in sync, stems cells behave just as they should. But when the researchers added increasing levels of antioxidants, they found that the antioxidants overwhelmed the free radicals so much that the antioxidants became toxic to the stem cells. And the effect was dose dependent. The more they piled on the antioxidants, the greater the toxic effect. Just like Paracelsus predicted 600 years ago, too much of a good thing is not a good thing. The authors concluded that we need to be careful when giving large doses of antioxidants. They can be toxic to stem cells.

Readers who have been following me for a long time know that I have been cautioning against excessively high doses of antioxidants for the past 25 years. Don't get me wrong, antioxidants are incredibly important, but you need to get the dose right. Because this study was only done on stem cells in a lab, we don't know how much antioxidants you would have to take to be too much. So when it comes to taking antioxidant supplements, my recommendation is to keep the doses in the reasonable range. As long as you combine a healthy diet with regular aerobic exercise, you can get all of the antioxidant help you will ever need with one to two scoops of my Super Immune QuickStart powder. And none of the antioxidants in QuickStart are in excessively high doses. You can learn more about it here. I would be very cautious about the continued use of doses higher than what is in QuickStart.

Yours for better health,


Hämäläinen RH, Ahlqvist KJ, et al.

mtDNA Mutagenesis Disrupts Pluripotent Stem Cell Function by Altering Redox Signaling. Cell Rep. 2015 Jun 16;11(10):1614-24

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