One of the most important ways to protect against premature aging is maintaining the integrity of the cell’s lipid membrane and DNA. Maintaining these vital cellular structures enhances the body’s ability to guard against age-related disease, including the well-known destructive effects inflicted by free radicals.1,2
A critical defense against free-radical damage is the body’s own internally generated antioxidant enzyme known as superoxide dismutase (SOD). This powerful enzyme, which functions both within and outside of cell membranes, greatly reduces oxidative stress and inflammation that can lead to atherosclerosis, arthritis, cognitive impairment, and other age-related afflictions.3-5 Unfortunately, levels of SOD dramatically decrease with advancing age, thereby limiting our natural ability to ward off degenerative disease.
Intriguing new research suggests that a Chinese herb known as wolfberry can enhance the activity of superoxide dismutase throughout the body.6,7 Combined with other proven SOD-boosting nutrients, wolfberry, an edible fruit, can help restore youthful SOD levels and optimal antioxidant defenses.
In this article, we reveal how to supercharge the production of powerful internal antioxidants (like SOD) to help you guard against oxidative stress and inflammation, while enhancing strength, vigor, and longevity.
SOD Disarms Dangerous Superoxide Radicals
While essential to life, oxygen also generates toxic byproducts known as reactive oxygen species, or free radicals. Both normal aging and chronic disease dramatically increase the production of free radicals,8,9 which can severely damage DNA, proteins, and lipids needed for cell growth, reproduction, metabolism, and repair.1 The result of all this cellular damage can range from atherosclerosis to cancer and even Alzheimer’s.10,11
Each day, our bodies fight off these damaging free radicals with the help of superoxide dismutase (SOD), which helps break down free radicals so that they are eventually converted into harmless water and oxygen.12
Improved Bioavailability Enhances SOD’s Effectiveness
Until recently, supplementing with SOD from food sources has been almost impossible. Digestive enzymes in the stomach quickly break down and deactivate orally ingested SOD. To create a more bioavailable form of SOD, researchers have coupled the SOD protein molecule to a carrier protein known as gliadin, derived from plant sources. Like a protective convoy, gliadin ushers SOD past the destructive stomach enzymes and delivers it to the intestines, where it is then absorbed directly into the bloodstream.13
Scientists began experiments with this new form of SOD coupled with gliadin (GliSODin®) to measure its absorption and utilization in the body. In one study, GliSODin® was associated with significantly increased activity of circulating antioxidant enzymes. Additionally, researchers noted that GliSODin® enhanced anti-inflammatory activity and improved the resistance of red blood cells to rupture induced by oxidative stress. This led scientists to conclude that supplementation with GliSODin® improves cellular antioxidant status while protecting against cell death induced by oxidative stress.13,14
The SOD-gliadin combination was shown to exert beneficial effects in cancer prevention as well. In an experimental model of tumor development, about 80% of laboratory animals given oral gliadin alone developed cancer, compared to only 40% of those given an oral SOD-gliadin compound. Moreover, cancer cells from subjects given SOD-gliadin were much less likely to spread (metastasize) than were cancer cells from those given gliadin alone. The researchers attributed the SOD-gliadin combination’s remarkable anti-cancer effects to SOD’s ability to scavenge the inflammatory superoxide radical.15
Clinical Studies Confirm Benefits of SOD-Boosting Supplements
In clinical as well as laboratory studies, supplements that boost SOD activity in the body show tremendous therapeutic potential.
Two studies sponsored by Life Extension examined SOD’s benefits in humans using SODzyme™, an extract derived from the sprouts of corn, soy, and wheat.16,17 In an open-label study, 12 middle-aged volunteers given 2000 mg of SODzyme™ daily for two weeks had a 30% increase in serum SOD levels and a 47% decrease in blood levels of hydrogen peroxide, a compound that aggravates inflammation associated with arthritis. These volunteers not only experienced a restoration of SOD to levels typically seen in much younger adults, but also had a 47% increase in the activity of a vital antioxidant enzyme known as catalase.16
In the second pilot study, 30 adults with arthritis or other inflammatory conditions received placebo or SODzyme™ for four weeks. A validated test designed to evaluate pain showed an impressive 71% decrease in pain in the SODzyme™ group and no change in the placebo group. Interestingly, patients who had the most pain when the study began achieved the greatest pain relief with SODzyme™. Several patients with various forms of painful arthritis or joint injury reported dramatic improvements in (and even absence of) pain within one to two weeks of starting SODzyme™, with no return in pain at the three-month follow-up and an improved ability to return to usual activities.17
SODzyme™ also demonstrates an impressive safety record. Unlike conventional nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or COX-2 inhibitors such as Celebrex® that are used to treat arthritis and inflammatory pain, SOD-boosting supplements have no adverse gastrointestinal or cardiovascular effects, due to their different mechanism of action.18
SOD’s versatility is demonstrated by its ability to protect the skin against damage caused by ultraviolet light. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, scientists exposed the forearms of 50 volunteers to ultraviolet light once a week for four weeks. Starting two to three days before the first exposure, the participants took a daily supplement containing either GliSODin® or placebo. Individuals receiving GliSODin®, even those with fair skin, were able to withstand eight times more ultraviolet light exposure before they developed sunburn compared to those who received placebo. Other benefits of GliSODin® were less skin inflammation and more rapid healing of redness after burning occurred. The scientists concluded that GliSODin® effectively prevents the consequences of oxidative stress resulting from excessive sun exposure, and that this effect is particularly important for fair-skinned individuals.19
For many patients suffering from burns or diabetic wounds, hyperbaric (high-pressure) oxygen can significantly contribute to faster healing. However, such treatment with high-pressure oxygen can result in breaks in DNA strands while increasing levels of isoprostanes, which reflect oxidative damage to cellular membranes. Studies show that oral antioxidants such as vitamin E and N-acetylcysteine do not protect against the unique type of oxidative damage associated with hyperbaric oxygen treatment.20 The combination of SOD and gliadin, however, offers effective protection against the oxidative stress of hyperbaric oxygen.
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 20 volunteers each received an hour of hyperbaric oxygen treatment. Those who supplemented with SOD-gliadin had significantly decreased oxidative damage and fewer DNA breaks, as well as less elevation of isoprostane levels. SOD thus appears to have great therapeutic value for people exposed to extreme oxidative stress.21 Since other antioxidants did not protect against the damage induced by hyperbaric oxygen, researchers have proposed that SOD’s beneficial effects are specific and not related solely to its antioxidant activity.20
These studies offer powerful evidence that supplements that boost SOD levels and activity in the body confer significant protection against damage to DNA, lipids, and skin, while relieving pain and inflammation.