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Scientists Discover an Unlikely Source of Antioxidants – Tree Bark

Scientists Discover an Unlikely Source of Antioxidants – Tree Bark  content piece image
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A new study from the IKBFU laboratory suggests that alder bark may become a novel source of anti-aging and anti-disease natural antioxidants.

In a society that places increasing focus on health and wellness, we are often implored to ensure that we are consuming foods that are rich in antioxidants. But what exactly are antioxidants, and where do we find them?

When it comes to free radicals, it's all about balance

Throughout our lifetime, our cells generate free radicals as part of normal physiological function, via endogenous systems or external exposure to different pathological states or physiochemical environments. Free radicals contain an unpaired electron in their atomic orbital which equips them with an unstable and highly reactive quality. As they can donate an electron or accept an electron from other molecules, they behave as "oxidants" or "reductants".

If our cells produce excess free radicals, a condition known as oxidative stress can occur, which can damage biological molecules such as lipids, proteins and DNA, resulting in disease.1 

Antioxidants are effectively free radical "scavengers" that can stop oxidative reactions from taking place and thus prevent disease.2 Research has indicated that antioxidants help to slow down the aging process, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and the development of certain forms of cancer, protect eye health and mitigate the effects of environmental pollution. For this reason, they have been the focus of a plethora of research studies over recent years.

The IKFBU Institute of Living Systems has spent the past ten years in the pursuit of new sources of antioxidants. In a new study published in the European Journal of Wood and Wood Products, IKFBU researchers suggest that alder bark may be utilized as a source of anti-aging and anti-disease natural oxidants.3

"Due to the fact that "the green chemistry" has been rapidly developing in recent years, it is extremely important to create an innovative industrial process that would be using not only bioresources but wastes and side-products of the industry," says IKBFU Associate Professor, Candidate of Biological Sciences, Lubov Skrypnik.

In the study, the researchers studied the composition of tree bark from three tree species, Oak, Pine and Alder, to look for sources of biologically active substances that possess antiradical activity.

They found that, despite the historic adoption of oak and pine bark in medicine, it was the alder tree extracts that contained higher concentrations of polyphenols and antiradical activity. Amongst the polyphenols identified were flavonoids, tannins and proanthocyanidins; compounds recognized for their anticarcinogenic and cardioprotective qualities, in addition to reducing the risk of diabetes and inhibiting metabolic syndromes.

The authors note that the results provide insight into the range of potential uses of alder bark, validating further exploration for the chemical, food and pharmaceutical industries.

Skrypnik also highlights that the publication is derived from a research study originally undertaken by first-year students as part of a summer research project. The students, Dmitriy Mikhailov, Nikita Grigoryev and Maria Antipina, are now third-year students.

"The main goal of the projects like this is to get students involved in the research activity of the University's laboratories and the fact that this article was published shows that this initiative is successful," he concludes. 


1. Lobo, Patil, Phatak, and Chandra. 2010. Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacognosy Reviews. DOI: 10.4103/0973-7847.70902.

2. Sarangarajan, Meera, Rukkumani, Sankar, Anuradha. 2017. Antioxidants: Friend or foe? Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apjtm.2017.10.017.

3. Skrypnik et al. 2019. Comparative study on radical scavenging activity and phenolic compounds content in water bark extracts of alder (Alnus glutinosa (L.) Gaertn.), oak (Quercus robur L.) and pine (Pinus sylvestris L.). European Journal of Wood and Wood Products. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00107-019-01446-3.