When Dr. Joe McCord came to the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Medicine 21 years ago, he wasn’t searching for the fountain of youth. But in 2004, our sunny state became the discovery site for a dietary supplement called Protandim. In the past seven years, the little yellow pill has garnered four patents and made an appearance on NBC’s Today show. The daily supplement, usually taken with food, works at the cellular level to reduce aging factors by boosting the production of our body’s own antioxidant enzymes (far more antioxidant power than you could ever get from vitamins, broccoli, or blueberries). Some researchers explain aging as the result of oxidative stress on the body’s cells, caused by molecules called free radicals. Young bodies fight free radicals successfully by producing their own antioxidants. But as people grow older, the human body produces fewer antioxidant enzymes—and with less to go around, it’s more difficult to destroy harmful reactive byproducts associated with more than 200 human diseases. McCord, chief scientific officer for LifeVantage, the makers of Protandim (protandim.com), says one pill a day could help keep everything from cancer and Alzheimer’s disease to baldness and creaky joints away. And at $40 to $50 a month, it’s easily less expensive than your morning nonfat latte habit. Eat your heart out, Florida.

5280 Health: What’s in Protandim?

McCord: It’s no secret. The ingredients [Ashwagandha and milk thistle, bacopa, green tea, and turmeric extracts] came from traditional medicine, largely ayurvedic medicine in India; traditional Chinese medicine has known about these things for many years as well.

How does it work?

Our cars have a catalytic converter in the exhaust system that detoxifies byproducts of the combustion process. [The enzyme I discovered 43 years ago], superoxide dismutase, or SOD, is the catalytic converter for our cells, and it does the same thing: The cell takes in food and oxygen, and burns them in a very controlled way, but some of the byproducts of combustion are the same as you’d get in a wood stove or in your car, so the cell needs a way to clean up those reactive byproducts, one of those being free radicals. The original idea for Protandim was that each of the five ingredients had already been shown, in published literature, to have some ability to increase the production of SOD in the body. So we thought even though each of those five did it kind of weakly, if we put them together, maybe there will be an additive effect. What we found was an enormous contribution of synergy—you get an effect that greatly exceeds the sum of its parts.

How do you measure Protandim’s effectiveness?

We measure the damage done by these free radicals in our bodies. When people took Protandim for 30 days, the average amount of those byproducts was reduced by 40 percent. In one study, our oldest participants were about 78 years old, husband and wife, and they were really the highest levels of this marker of oxidative stress. And we had a couple of kids on the other end, 20, 21 years old, that were active and athletic, and they had the lowest. After 30 days on Protandim, that became a flat line; I could no longer analyze the blood and tell if it came from the old people or the young people.

Will Protandim help you live longer?

The company, and certainly I, have never put a great emphasis on extending life span. What we would like to extend is what’s now called “health span,” where everybody lives a healthy life until they get to be very old.

Which diseases and signs of aging are oxidative stress linked to?

Because that process of burning our food and making free radicals is so central, and because as everybody ages, that balance tips toward oxidative stress, it turns out most of the things that appear as you get older [from annoyances like stiff joints, severe respiratory infections, and graying hair to over 200 diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s] have a strong component of oxidative stress in the disease process. In some cases it’s clearly causing it; in other cases it may be just a part of the process, but it’s still a measurable component of the process.

What is the future of Protandim?

We’re getting a lot of interest from big companies who are taking care of the health of their employees; those companies are now considering subsidizing this product for their people. They’re wondering if that would save them a lot of health-care expenses in the end. And the answer, we hope, is yes.

Where can we get some?

Right now it’s being sold by multilevel marketing or network marketing. This is a really complicated product…with 20-second ads or a little corner of a magazine, you can’t tell the story.