However, even the highest antioxidant foods are only second best.
That’s because they’re what’s known as secondary antioxidants. They come from external dietary sources. Your body doesn’t make them internally. Those are the best type.
Known as primary antioxidants, they are your body’s first line of defense against fighting oxidative stress. They’re exponentially more powerful than even the best secondary antioxidants.
What is superoxide dismutase?
Superoxide dismutase (SOD) is both an antioxidant and an enzyme. It’s made by humans, animals, plants, and fungi. Its job is to neutralize what may be the most dangerous type of free radical; superoxide anions. SOD converts them to oxygen and hydrogen peroxide. This mechanism is called dismutation and hence its name.
SOD works in tandem with two other internally created antioxidant enzymes; glutathione and catalase. Their job is to convert the byproduct of superoxide radicals, hydrogen peroxide, to harmless water and oxygen.
How does superoxide dismutase work?
It does not work like most antioxidants, whose only job is to “lend” a spare electron to an unstable molecule which needs one. Superoxide dismutase is an enzyme, meaning it triggers a biochemical reaction. This reaction is the breaking down of the highly damaging superoxide radical into ordinary oxygen (O2) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2).
Even though hydrogen peroxide is a potent pro-oxidant, it’s far less damaging to the body than superoxide anions.
The reason superoxide is so dangerous is because through the Haber-Weiss chain reaction, it produces large amounts of hydrogen peroxide as it comes in contact with cells throughout the body.
In short, superoxide isn’t very reactive on its own, but it creates lots of highly reactive compounds (free radicals).
That’s why it has to be stopped ASAP.
What is the role of superoxide dismutase?
When there are higher amounts of superoxide anions (free radicals) in the body, they correlate with higher rates of many degenerative diseases and signs of aging. SOD plays a role in preventing, minimizing, and/or slowing them down.
Since free radicals damage DNA and cancer is caused by DNA mutations, it’s no surprise that having higher amount of the superoxide dismutase enzyme has been found to correlate with lower malignant intensity. This has been seen with colon cancer and other types. (3)
It has also been reported:
“New mechanistic studies have revealed that SOD inhibits not only oncogenic activity, but also subsequent metabolic shifts during early tumorigenesis.”
Meaning more SOD during the earliest stages of cancers might be useful. (4)
Reactive oxidative species, particularly the superoxide anions, have been associated with the prevalence and worsening of numerous CV diseases including high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, related diabetic complications (like neuropathy and retinopathy), blood vessel dysfunction, and others. (5) (6) (7)
In rodent models, higher amounts of SOD in the brain have been found to prevent memory deficits and the amyloid plaque formations which are telltale signs of Alzheimer’s. (8)
In a study involving 30 autistic children and 18 age-matched healthy children, those with autism had significantly lower levels of SOD in their blood. It was concluded that low levels “can be considered as a diagnostic biomarker” in the early detection of autism. (9)
Collagen is part of the “scaffolding” which keeps your skin looking youthful. As we get older, free radicals break down the amount of collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid which holds our skin together and keeps moisture intact.
It has been found that SOD actually binds directly to collagen. This means it’s a first line of defense in protecting your type 1 collagen from oxidative damage. (10)
These are just a few examples of the many health benefits in which superoxide dismutase may play a pivotal role. Because free radicals do damage virtually everywhere, the potential advantages of higher SOD activity in the body is hard to fully recognize or quantify.
The genetic disposition of some people naturally making high amounts may explain why they can get away with unhealthy lifestyles.
For example, what Donald Trump eats in a day, or at least used to eat, is despicable. Despite his awful food choices, lack of exercise, and minimal sleep, the first seven decades of his life had virtually no health issues or the side effects one would expect.
Most likely, Trump is someone who won the genetic lottery; genetic predisposition to produce more primary antioxidants like SOD, catalase, and glutathione.
For the rest of us who can’t get away with such shenanigans, can we make up the difference through supplementation using capsules/tablets, or by eating rich food sources of SOD?
The problem with absorption
Most secondary antioxidants found in foods are smaller molecules. They’re readily absorbable by the human body.
Granted, not all hold up well in the acidic environment of the stomach, or through the heat of cooking, air exposure, and light degradation.
Regardless, there’s still the reasonable possibility for many, if not most, that at least a portion of them can be absorbed and make their way into your bloodstream.
The same cannot be said about superoxide dismutase.
When taken orally, superoxide dismutase has poor bioavailability. In fact, it may not be absorbed whatsoever. When radiolabeled pure SOD powder was given to mice, there was no change in SOD levels of their blood or liver enzymes.
SOD is readily destroyed by gastric acids in the stomach. That fat, compounded with it being a larger molecule, means that your body probably can’t absorb SOD when taken orally, such as by capsule, tablet, or a dissolved powder. (11)
Are supplements a scam?
Yes and no.
A superoxide dismutase dosage which consists of the pure and unadulterated form is unlikely to boost blood serum levels of the antioxidant. There is no proof that it can do so, yet there is a lot of evidence to suggest the opposite; that SOD powder is not absorbed intact during the digestive process.
Superoxide dismutase supplement benefits may be for real if they’re using a form which isn’t broken down by stomach acid and allows it to travel intact to the small intestine, where it likely can get absorbed, at least in part.
Reviews of supplements being used in human clinical trials to prove bioavailability do exist, but only a few. There is limited scientific evidence demonstrating superoxide dismutase foods getting absorbed. However, there is evidence that some foods boost levels after consumption.
Superoxide dismutase requires a bond to zinc and copper (Cu-Zn-SOD), manganese or iron. As such, it’s no surprise that the richest dietary sources are also rich in one or more of these essential minerals.
Though be aware that copper is a potent pro-oxidant. You don’t want to be consuming free copper radicals.
The following dietary options, and supplements made from them, are probably your best options for increasing SOD.
Superoxide dismutase foods
1. Sprouted wheat
Aside from containing 20 amino acids, including all of the essentials, wheat is an underappreciated superfood.
It’s not a high antioxidant grain on its own, but the young early sprouted wheat contains high amounts of SOD enzymes. (12)
Furthermore, gliadin, which is a type of protein found in wheat, helps protect the fragile SOD molecules from degradation by gastric acid.
In rodent studies, it was confirmed that the consumption of SOD and gliadin bonded together increased levels of SOD in their blood after consumption. The same was not seen when SOD was eaten by itself. (13)
GliSODin supplements were used in this and other studies, including some with humans. Their patented form has been shown to protect the SOD during digestion, based on blood levels comparing with and without it.
On Amazon you can buy supplements made with GliSODin.
Since even low heat quickly destroys SOD, a better way to eat this food source is wheat grass. It has much higher amounts than the mature grain. Unlike breads and pasta, you typically eat or drink it raw. (14)
3. Cantaloupe melon
In and of itself, this fruit is very low in secondary antioxidants. Its ORAC value of 319 is even less than iceberg lettuce.
However, it has high amounts of this enzyme.
Cantaloupe (Cucumis melo L.C.) is one of the best foods that contain superoxide dismutase. Some varieties contain up to 100 mcg per mg, as well as 10 mcg of the antioxidants catalase (CAT) and glutathione peroxidase (GPx). (15) (16)
Unfortunately, not even the raw fresh fruit will be a good source, because the low pH in the stomach inactivates the enzyme. This has been confirmed in research. (17)
To circumvent this problem, encapsulated forms of been invented. They envelope the enzymes in lipid and protein coatings.
Wheat-derived gliadin to protect superoxide dismutase derived from cantaloupe is the most studied form. That’s what the patented GliSODin supplements use.
Is rye a better source than wheat?
The following quote comes from page 158 of What’s New About Crop Plants: Novel Discoveries of the 21st Century.
“The highest superoxide dismutase-like activity was noted for rye bread formulated on flour with an extraction rate of 70%. The four types of rye breads showed better antioxidative properties and higher antioxidant contents when compared to wheat roll with one exception made to tocophenols and tocotrienols.”
In short, the rye grain appears to higher SOD content than wheat. Though wheat may have more vitamin E and similar antioxidants.
As with wheat, rye is a gliadin-containing grain, which should help protect the SOD from stomach acid. Young and raw sprouted rye are likely the best sources.
Like wheat and rye, barley is a gliadin-containing grain that contains superoxide dismutase. It’s mostly in the embryo. The endosperm, which is the inner part of grains used in highly refined and white breads, contains virtually no SOD whatsoever. (18)
6. Barley grass
What’s better than barley?
Barley grass, which is similar to wheat grass. It’s the young sprouted seedlings, just a few days old.
Freeze-dried barley grass powder has the highest SOD activity. (19)
If you want a good source that’s affordable and high quality, the brand Micro Ingredients sells an 8 ounce bag of USDA organic barley grass powder. It’s available on Amazon.
7. Broccoli sprouts
The best way how increase superoxide dismutase naturally from foods may be through cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts contain high amounts of SOD. Additionally, they contain a unique compound known as sulforaphane. It scavenges hydrogen peroxide “very efficiently” by converting it to water.
Furthermore, sulforaphane boosts the body’s production of glutathione, which is another very important primary antioxidant.
Check out the science of why broccoli sprout supplements and extracts are being studied for autism, cancer, and more.
While there aren’t yet studies to validate this theory, there’s a good chance that kale is among the best cruciferous veggies to eat for boosting SOD.
Because kale is very high in fiber and somewhat difficult to digest.
Bad for people with intestinal motility issues. Good for everyone else, because the bound fiber may help protect the SOD until it gets to the small intestine.
Plus, kale is a rich source of manganese, one of the essential minerals our body uses to make this enzyme.
9. Brussels sprouts
Eating raw Brussels sprouts is uncommon but it can be done. Try shredding some and adding to a salad.
Why not boil/steam? This graph explains it…
You can see how the stability of all 3 forms dropped precipitously after being exposed to heat. This was with a very low cooking temperature; just 140°F (60°C). (22)
High superoxide dismutase levels have been detected after the consumption of curcumin, which is the active ingredient in turmeric.
Fruit flies (Drosophila) are frequently used in research because it’s easy to monitor their lifespan from start to finish. With a curcumin dosage of 0.5 mg per gram of food, their lifespan increased 6.2%. When their dose was double that, it increased by 25.8%.
It is theorized this was due, at least in part, to the curcumin’s up-regulation effect on certain genes. They are genes associated with the natural production of Mn-SOD (manganese form) and CuZn-SOD (copper and zinc form). (23)
Turmeric may not be an outstanding source on its own, though its influence on naturally increasing superoxide dismutase levels makes it an outstanding food.
Turmeric only contains about 2% curcumin by weight. The best superoxide dismutase supplement will be a highly bioavailable form of this compound. Check out our curcumin supplement reviews for the top-rated, based on bioavailability.
What’s the best way to increase levels?
Superoxide dismutase is one of the three most important antioxidants made by your body. Not just yours, or your dogs and cats. Virtually every life form makes it.
There’s no question or debate as to its importance, but there is when it comes to increasing SOD levels through foods, supplements, or both.
Given the fact that even low heat deactivates it and that stomach acid does too, it draws into question how helpful (or not) foods are which contain superoxide dismutase.
How to take superoxide dismutase in a bioavailable way remains unproven, however the strongest scientific evidence is for raw plant-based foods, particularly cruciferous vegetables and young sprouted gluten-containing grains like rye, wheat, and barley.
GliSODin vs. Extramel supplements
Cantaloupe is one of the richest known foods but for the SOD to remain intact during digestion, it will likely have to be in a protective coating. GliSODin supplements, which bind cantaloupe SOD with gliadin from wheat, appear to be the most promising way to take it.
As with GliSODin, SOD B Extramel is a supplement which uses melon pulp concentrate. It’s made by the French company Bionov, who markets themselves as the “world’s largest SOD producer.” As with GliSODin, they use non-GMO cantaloupe.
In humans, two clinical trials have been published using the Extramel melon pulp concentrate. While they reported success with stress relief and chronic fatigue syndrome, we have not seen research showing SOD blood serum levels with and without Extramel. (24) (25)
Given that GliSODin is more than an extract, as it’s also a patented delivery system which aims to remain intact past the stomach, we believe it’s the best superoxide dismutase supplement currently on the market.
While side effects have not been published for either, if you are allergic to gluten you should avoid GliSODin since it’s made from wheat. Each standard dosage capsule has 8.3 mg of gliadin and that makes up about 20% of the gluten protein composition.
Brands on Amazon which use it include Source Naturals SOD Power 250mg and Life Extension SODzyme with GliSODin & Wolfberry.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.