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Problems with ORAC Testing

We get asked a lot why we don’t have ORAC testing done on our products. While ORAC scores do provide some measurable means to compare foods and antioxidant products, there are some problems with ORAC testing. I’ll do my best to address these problems in this article and explain why ORAC isn’t the definitive answer on a products antioxidant capability.

Here is a little background on ORAC testing, which was developed at the National Institute on Aging. According to Natural Products Insider “the test pits an antioxidant sample—an extract, for example—against free radicals in a test tube. The amount of oxidative stress/damage and inhibition of this oxidation is measured relative to a fluorescent tube, yielding a score that represents the antioxidant capacity of the sample.” So ORAC testing scores foods, extracts, or finished products based on the samples ability to reduce oxidation of free radicals.

One of the problems with ORAC testing is that the results are based on tests done in a test tube and lab, not in real life. It’s hard to translate the results from lab testing to the human experience, especially since each body is different and will possibly react to different antioxidants in different ways. You can’t take a standardized result, like an ORAC score, and predict the results you’ll see from a food or supplement product.

Another of the problems with ORAC testing, which has only recently been addressed, is that the original ORAC test was done in water. This means that antioxidants that are water-soluble had an advantage over their fat soluble counterparts. Even now that ORAC testing works for both types of antioxidants, it’s hard to know if those results can be accurately compared.

Yet another of the problems with ORAC testing is that it only tests for 2 of the at least 6 harmful reactive oxygen species. Sadly, because of this there are some antioxidants that have a low ORAC score, but still are extremely effective in fighting off free radicals. An example of this is carotenoids, which may not rank highly on the ORAC scale, but has proven to be effective against singlet oxygen (an ROS not tested in ORAC testing). In addition to this, there are a number of phytochemicals (like lycopene) that serve many beneficial functions, but due to the nature of the ORAC test, they generally score low.

One of the other problems with ORAC testing is the ability to enhance your samples’ ORAC score. This can be done by removing water from whatever is being tested. Wayne G. Geilman, Ph.D., a senior research scientist for Pure Fruit Technologies, has said “Dried fruits will always score higher than the same fresh fruit—the more water removed the higher ORAC score.” He also shares that changing the size of the product being tested can also affect the final ORAC score. Other things that can affect something’s ORAC score are growing conditions, soil quality and when the sample was harvested.

ORAC scores are a simplified way for consumers to compare products and try to choose which is best for them and their needs. The problem lies in the fact that some people choose to look at nothing but something’s ORAC score. There are many ways to determine how beneficial a product or food would be to you. Make sure you do your homework when trying to choose the best ways to be healthy!

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