To Your Health

Is SOD available in food or do I need to get it in a supplement? I've been reading that it's a great free-radical neutralizer.

Q. Is SOD available in food or do I need to get it in a supplement? I've been reading that it's a great free-radical neutralizer.

A. Superoxide dismutase, or SOD, is a powerful antioxidant enzyme found in the cells of almost every living thing that depends on oxygen, from bacteria to us. There are actually three types of SOD, each making use of certain nutritional minerals combined with protein, to neutralize oxygen free radicals. Oxygen free radicals are being constantly produced by our mitochondria in the process of converting the food we eat into energy we can use, and also when needed by our white blood cells to defend us against invading infectious organisms.

SOD is found in a lot of foods, but even though it is on the small side as body proteins go, only about half the size of the hemoglobin molecule, SOD is far too large a molecule to be easily absorbed from food. The foods that are rich sources of SOD, such as broccoli, cabbage, or barley grass, are also good sources of the minerals (zinc, copper, and manganese) that our bodies use to make our own SOD, and this may possibly explain the slight boost in blood SOD from supplements. The protein part of SOD, from either food or a supplement, is apparently mostly digested.

Increased SOD levels in the body would certainly be helpful in many situations, and researchers are experimenting with ways to promote better absorption of SOD. Enteric-coated capsules and sublingual tablets of SOD are available, as well as topical creams. Except for their expense, these forms of SOD are harmless to try. Orgotein, an injectable form of SOD, is available by prescription and is the form with the best reputation for producing benefits. However, since it is made from cow liver, it sometimes produces allergic reactions and should be administered only by a physician.

SOD shows real promise in the treatment of several maladies. SOD injected directly into the knees of patients with osteoarthritis has relieved the symptoms of joint swelling, pain, and morning stiffness for about three months. Other inflammatory conditions, such as Crohn's disease and interstitial cystitis, have responded to injections of SOD. It has been theorized that low levels of SOD in those with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) leave nerve cells more vulnerable to free radical damage, and that SOD injections along with vitamin E supplements will slow the progression of this mysterious and presently incurable disease.

Burn injuries, including the radiation damage associated with cancer therapy, treated with injected SOD healed completely in about 30% of cases and were helped in another 60%. SOD spray yielded lesser benefits.

There is money to be made if SOD reduces wrinkles and slows the aging process, which seems possible, but the real payoff for all of us comes if SOD is capable of suppressing cancer growth. There are still a lot of unanswered questions about how it works, but increasing the SOD level of cells probably changes the way in which cancer cells use oxygen. Cancer cells grow best in the absence of oxygen, and the presence of high levels of SOD seems to prematurely "age" cancer cells more than normal cells.

The use of SOD supplements is still in its infancy but shows definite promise once a way is found to deliver it intact to the cells that need it.

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