Category Archives: Anti-oxidant

Anti-Inflammatories and Anti-Oxidants in Licorice: Is Licorice good before a workout?

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This article started in response to a question: “what is the best supplement to take before a workout.”  Licorice seems as good a choice as several other products.  So I looked into it.  First of all Licorice has a lot of interesting chemicals in it.  Many of these seem to be good for you.   As long as its used in moderation.  Every silver lining has a cloud.  Licorice contains several different pretty powerful anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants are important because they protect cells and DNA from oxidative damage. Oxidative damage increases risk of cancer and shortens cell life.   A research team in China, isolated six different compounds from licorice extract.  The licorice compounds were then tested for anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.   Inflammation can also lead to oxidative damage and can increase risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and etc.  Anti-inflammatory agents may protect long-term health.   The compounds are listed below in case anyone wants to look into them a little more deeply.  Interested in making the switch from booze and cigarettes to licorice and tea? New research indicates licorice may be the better choice.

omega-6 fatty acids and health discussion with licorice
CrossFit Trainer talks about nutrition and omega-6 fatty acids and licorice.


All of the compounds had health protective qualities.  Many shared the same properties.  Here are a few of the things licorice extract can do:

  • Anti-Oxidant Power.  Three of the compounds in licorice extract were strong anti-oxidants.  The three were better at scavenging free radicals than Vitamin C.
  • Inhibit Lipid Peroxidation.  A number of the compounds were able to inhibit lipid peroxidation.  Lipid peroxidation damages cell membranes.  Stopping lipid peroxidation is generally considered a good thing.  Licorice compounds also inhibited production of reactive oxygen species.  Reactive oxygen species are compounds that cause oxidative damage including lipid peroxidation.
  • Inhibited prostaglandin E2.  Inhibition of prostaglandin E2 may or may not be a good thing.  Prostaglandin E2 is important in pregnancy and birth.  But it also stimulates tumor growth possibly by increasing inflammation.   It is possible that licorice extracts may be anti-carcinogens.  It is possible that pregnant women should stay away from licorice.
  • Inhibited production of interleukin-6.  Interleukin-6 inhibitors are under study as anti-arthritis drugs.  Interleukin-6 also activates inflammation.  Elevated interleukin-6 is associated with atherosclerosis, depression, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, among other things.  Interleukin-6 is important in good ways too.  Inhibiting the hell out of it may create other problems.  Such as maybe suppressing the immune system.

Should I eat tons of Licorice to protect my health?

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No.  Don’t eat tons of it.  Licorice has a down side.  Too much of most things is not good and there is not enough research to support going overboard.  There are also compounds in licorice that are harmful.  Licorice has been shown to raise blood pressure, for example.   And there is a case report of a woman who overindulged in licorice (about 1.5 pounds) and became extremely ill.    Her body underwent a series of changes unfavorable to a long life.  To quote from the paper:  Creatine kinase, hypokalemia, hypocalcemia and hypophosphatemia with low aldosterone and plasma renin levels and high intact PTH.  So go light.  She also got rhabdomyelesis.

Should I eat Twizzlers before working out or doing a CrossFit WOD?

You should avoid black licorice if you have high blood pressure.   Otherwise a twizzler or two is probably fine once in a while.  One or two red twizzlers will help you get pumped without the risks posed by black licorice.  And exercise stimulates the body to produce its own anti-oxidants.  Adding anti-oxidants before a workout may blunt your body’s response.  In this case red Twizzlers may be better than black twizzlers as a pre-workout stimulant.  Only black twizzlers are made with real licorice extract.  If you check the package you will see that it contains “less than 3% licorice extract.”  With good quality control you could eat a pound of black twizzler licorice and consume less than 3.6 grams of extract.  The University of Maryland posts that licorice can be used at about 1.2 grams per day.  A pound of twizzlers may contain three times that limit.    Hard to say when the content might be anywhere between 3.6 grams and nothing.  There is a lot of information and a lot of research being done on licorice as a medicinal plant.  Much more than I expected.  More than I can chew right now.   There does not seem to be any research on the benefits or dangers of red twizzlers.

Licorice compounds with anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties:

  • 5′-(1,1-dimethylallyl)-3,4,4′-trihydroxy-2-methoxychalcone
  • licochalcone B
  • licochalcone A
  • echinatin
  • glycycoumarin
  • glyurallin B

Fu Y, Chen J, Li YJ, Zheng YF, & Li P (2013). Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of six flavonoids separated from licorice. Food chemistry, 141 (2), 1063-71 PMID: 23790887

Sigurjónsdóttir HA, Franzson L, Manhem K, Ragnarsson J, Sigurdsson G, & Wallerstedt S (2001). Liquorice-induced rise in blood pressure: a linear dose-response relationship. Journal of human hypertension, 15 (8), 549-52 PMID: 11494093

Shah M, Williams C, Aggarwal A, & Choudhry WM (2012). Licorice-related rhabdomyolysis: a big price for a sweet tooth. Clinical nephrology, 77 (6), 491-5 PMID: 22595392

The Paleo Diet: Quinoa, protein, anti-oxidants and saponins.

What is Quinoa and is Quinoa Paleo (OK for the paleo diet?)

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Quinoa is (are?) seeds from a broad-leaf plant.  Grains are from grasses.  When cooked quinoa tastes mildly like toasted broccoli.  This is not as bad as it sounds.  Quinoa is grain-like and can be used in place of rice or pasta.  It is good for breakfast with nuts and cinnamon.   Quinoa does not contain Gluten.  So if you have celiac disease, or gluten sensitivity you should be fine with Quinoa.

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Is Quinoa Paleo?

If you are trying to follow the Paleo diet, quinoa should be fine too. Quinoa commonly contains many important minerals, including selenium.  Selenium is an important anti-oxidant and is protective against some cancers.  It is also important for synthesis of testosterone, among other things.
Quinoa has a number of other benefits. Quinoa provides more anti-oxidants and protein than wheat.  The anti-oxidants in quinoa appear to be more bio-available than anti-oxidants from wheat.  Bio-available simply means that the nutrients can be extracted by the digestive system and used.  Somethings are present in foods, but cannot be used.   Things that are not bio-available are dumped.   Other benefits of quinoa include an omega 6:Omega 3 ratio of about 6:1, and high vitamin E and protein content (~15%).  It also has a low glycemic index.

What about Saponins? Are Saponins Dangerous?

Some people in the CrossFit and the Paleo communities believe saponins are dangerous and will damage the intestines.   Quinoa does contain saponins. Followers of the paleo diet have placed quinoa on the forbidden list for this reason.  However, saponins are a class of chemical. There are many different saponins.  There are good ones and bad ones (Francis et al. 2002). Some saponins can damage cell membranes. However, others are beneficial.  Some saponins are protective and serve as anti-oxidants. The Saponin arjunolic acid is one of these.   This saponin has been proposed as a possible treatment for diabetes. P-coumaric acid, another saponin that is present in quinoa, may reduce risk of colon cancer. It is also an anti-oxidant. Like curcumin.  Saponins are also found in many other healthful foods such as vegetables and tea.

Some people think that increasing selenium intake will increase testosterone levels.  But, that is probably not true. You can read more about that here.

Francis G, Kerem Z, Makkar HPS, Becker K.  2002.  The biological action of saponins in animal systems: a review.  British Journal of Nutrition.  88(6): 587-605.

Laus MN, Gagliardi A, Soccio M, Flagella Z, Pastore D.  2012.  Antioxidant activity of free and bound compounds in Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa willd.) seeds in comparison with durum wheat and emmer.  2012.  Journal of Food Science. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2012.02923.x. [Epub ahead of print]

Alvarez-Jubete L, Arendt EK, & Gallagher E (2009). Nutritive value and chemical composition of pseudocereals as gluten-free ingredients. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 60 Suppl 4, 240-57 PMID: 19462323 Manna P, & Sil PC (2012). Arjunolic acid: beneficial role in type 1 diabetes and its associated organ pathophysiology. Free radical research, 46 (7), 815-30 PMID: 22486656

Manna P, & Sil PC (2012). Arjunolic acid: beneficial role in type 1 diabetes and its associated organ pathophysiology. Free radical research, 46 (7), 815-30 PMID: 22486656

Ferguson LR, Zhu ST, & Harris PJ (2005). Antioxidant and antigenotoxic effects of plant cell wall hydroxycinnamic acids in cultured HT-29 cells. Molecular nutrition & food research, 49 (6), 585-93 PMID: 15841493

Nutrition: Could Coconut Oil Speed Cell Aging?

Nutrition: Cell Health and Telomeres.

You can only be as healthy as your cells.  A major marker of cell health is telomere length.  Telomeres cap the ends of chromosomes.  They protect DNA from deteriorating.  They also protect DNA from accidental fusion with other chromosomes.  You need the caps.  Caps, however, tend to wear out (they get shorter) with repeated cell divisions.  Once a telomere suffers enough wear the cell can no longer divide.  Other things can wear out telomeres too.   Things like oxidative stress and inflammation.  Telomere shortening and wear is thought to play a major role in aging.  Preserving telomere length may be a way to prolong life.  Speeding telomere wear may cause faster aging.
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Short to Medium Chain Saturated Fatty Acids

A diet rich in short to medium chain saturated fatty acids may damage telomeres.  A new paper published in the Journal of Nutrition reports on diet, fat intake and telomere length.  Subjects were part of the Women’s Health Initiative study.  Women who ate a lot of short and medium chain saturated fatty acids had shorter telomeres.  Women with the lowest intake of short and medium chain saturated fatty acids had the longest telomeres.  Long-chain saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats had no effect on telomeres.

Nutrition take away.

A diet high in short to medium chain fatty acids may speed aging.  A lot of people in CrossFit follow the Paleo Diet.  Or The Paleolithic Diet.  The Paleo diet and a lot of its followers advocate consumption of coconut oil.  Medium chain fatty acids do have some nice qualities.  Medium chain fatty acids have been associated with reduced risk of metabolic syndrome.  Medium chain fatty acids are easy to digest.  They may reduce appetite and feelings of hunger.  And they pack a lot of calories.  Having a source of calories is important.   The research reported here shows you are probably better off sticking to long chain, and unsaturated fats.  Drink olive oil.  Eat walnuts.  Future research may report something different.  Few people, after all, eat lots of coconut oil.  And there may have been other factors involved with the women in the Women’s Health Initiative study that might also have caused their telomeres to shorten.

Foods High in Short or Medium Chain Saturated Fatty Acids

  • Coconut oil: 66% medium chain saturated fatty acids
  • Palm Kernal Oil
  • Butter
  • Whole Milk
  • Cheese


Song Y, You NC, Song Y, Kang MK, Hou L, Wallace R, Eaton CB, Tinker LF, & Liu S (2013). Intake of Small-to-Medium-Chain Saturated Fatty Acids Is Associated with Peripheral Leukocyte Telomere Length in Postmenopausal Women. The Journal of nutrition PMID: 23616516

Nagao K, & Yanagita T (2010). Medium-chain fatty acids: functional lipids for the prevention and treatment of the metabolic syndrome. Pharmacological research : the official journal of the Italian Pharmacological Society, 61 (3), 208-12 PMID: 19931617

CrossFit Training: How fitness protects from chronic disease

CrossFit Training and recent research on links between adaptation to fitness and increased levels of anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants lower risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.There are many benefits in maintaining fitness.  Regular exercise reduces risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.  While the association of exercise and disease prevention has been strong, understanding why has been unclear.  But this is changing.

CrossFit Training, Anti-oxidants, free-radicals and fitness.

Uncontrolled free-radicals are major factors in the development of serious diseases.  Diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease are all conditions where free-radicals are thought to play major roles.  Free radicals are molecules or atoms that have lost an electron.  These pose problems because they are very reactive and will grab electrons from other molecules.  Free radicals can also interact with other molecules, stress cells and throw wrenches in the works.  This includes wrench throwing into your DNA.    Damaged DNA that is not repaired can result in cancer.  Or birth defects.  Free radicals also  damage tissues and organs by damaging large numbers of cells. They can damage pancreatic beta cells and increase risk of type 2 diabetes.

CrossFit Training and How fitness protects from cancer, heart disease, diabetes.

Of CrossFit Training and General Health.  Anti-oxidants protect us from free-radicals by neutralizing them.  Having enough anti-oxidants reduces risk of diabetes, cancer, or heart disease.  Exercise causes a number of changes beyond weight loss and fitness.  And these changes play into the free-radical games.   These changes are adaptions to the increased stress of exercise.  When people are first getting in shape there is an increase in free-radical production.  And a temporary increase in physical stress.   As a result, your body suffers inflammation, along with aches and pains. This is very much like what happens when you get sick with a fever.  This may be a good part of why getting in shape sucks so much.   When you are getting in shape (or trying to push yourself to a higher level) your body will produce more free-radicals, including more reactive oxygen species, until it adapts to your new level of activity.  Part of that adaptation includes increasing production of its own anti-oxidants.  Once you have adapted you will be producing enough anti-oxidants to protect against other sources of free-radicals.

CrossFit Training, Endurance or Weight Training?

What is CrossFit looking like in terms of increasing anti-oxidants?  Is Endurance Training best?  Or Resistance Training?  So far animal testing indicates that endurance exercise works best for protection against inflammation and production of anti-oxidants (Oliveira et al. 2012).  The animals in the study were subjected to endurance training, resistance training or combination training.   Hopefully more work will be done in this area and we will get a better picture of what is optimal for humans.  Weight training (resistance exercise) remains important.  And CrossFit exercises (and high intensity interval training) show very promising results on other aspects of health and fitness.  It seems likely that adaptation to these forms of exercise (i.e. CrossFit) will produce similar results to endurance training.


de Lemos ET, Oliveira J, Pinheiro JP, & Reis F (2012). Regular physical exercise as a strategy to improve antioxidant and anti-inflammatory status: benefits in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2012 PMID: 22928086

de Oliveira VN, Bessa A, Jorge ML, Oliveira RJ, de Mello MT, De Agostini GG, Jorge PT, & Espindola FS (2012). The effect of different training programs on antioxidant status, oxidative stress, and metabolic control in type 2 diabetes. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme, 37 (2), 334-44 PMID: 22458821