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A safer antioxidant?

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11:24am, February 25, 2003
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Numerous diseases and complications associated with aging trace to damage from so-called free radicals that form naturally in the body and are chemically reactive. Many people attempt to cope by self-medicating with natural antioxidants, including vitamins C, E, and the polyphenols found in plant-derived foods and drinks. There's a problem with that: Taken in excess, most antioxidants start to foster the damage they were meant to prevent. That's why a new Japanese synthetic antioxidant looks so intriguing.

Kiyoshi Fukuhara of the National Institute of Health Sciences in Tokyo and his coworkers developed what they describe as a chemical analog of catechin, which is among the more potent antioxidants in tea, chocolate, and many fruits. Catechin molecules ordinarily have two structural elements that bend around a pivot point. The result is that each element lies in a separate plane. In their new synthetic version, the Japanese scientists have locked both of catechin's structural units into a common plane.

In the January Chemical Research in Toxicology, Fukuhara's group describes test-tube experiments showing that even at high concentrations, the synthetic catechin remains an antioxidant. Fukuhara speculates that supplements of this compound might someday "be useful for the prevention and treatment of radical-associated disease," including cancer, Alzheimer's disease, stroke, and radiation injury.

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