THE LOWDOWN ON ANTIOXIDANTS & FREE RADICALS
3 MIN READ
If you’ve never heard the word antioxidant, it’s safe to say you’ve been living under a rock. Antioxidants have become a marketing buzz-word in the beauty, skincare, and overall wellness industry. But, like Einstein’s theory of relativity – everyone’s heard of them, but few actually understand them. You know antioxidants are ‘good for you’, but do you know why?
Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals, and are known for their ability to prevent, and in some cases, reverse cellular damage. The key to this definition, and what makes antioxidants so great, is their ability to hunt, fight, and prevent the damage caused by free radicals. This leads to the next obvious question; what exactly are free radicals?
Free radicals, and their role in skin damage
Free radicals are highly unstable and reactive waste molecules produced by cells as the body processes foods and reacts to the environment. This natural process is not necessarily a cause for concern, however not all free radicals are created equally. There are two types of free radicals:
- The first includes those free-radicals created through natural by-products of ongoing biochemical reactions in the body, including regular metabolic processes and immune system responses. Those free radicals aren’t necessarily detrimental.
- The second encompasses free radicals created by external factors like pollution and UV rays, and habitual factors like tobacco, fried foods, and excess alcohol. These free radicals are the ones to watch out for.
Now that you’re well acquainted with where these little waste molecules come from, you’re probably wondering what the big deal is. The problem with free radicals is that they are known to cause oxidative stress by damaging parts of cells such as collage proteins, elastin proteins, DNA, and cell membranes by stealing their electrons through a process called oxidation. When free radicals oxidize important parts of the cell, they lose their ability to function normally, and can severely damage or kill the cell altogether.
Cell damage caused by untamed free radicals can lead to some pretty nasty consequences for your skin, including:
7 Potent Antioxidants to the rescue
Before you panic, let’s shift back to our friend; antioxidants. Antioxidants are generally considered “free radical scavengers” because of their ability to either reduce the formation of free radicals or neutralize them. To get science-y about it, antioxidants often work by donating an electron to the free radical before it can oxidize other cell components – aka cause oxidative damage.
The following seven compounds are worth mentioning for their major antioxidant activity and the role they play in developing healthy skin from within:
- Resveratrol – Among other benefits, resveratrol is amazing for reducing inflammation
- Sulforaphane – This potent antioxidant rich compound has been shown to avoid cancer and neurodegeneration, as well as improve cellular life span and health span.
- Carotenoids – Are known for their efficacy in detoxifying free radicals and significantly improving skin texture.
- Polyphenols – House strong photoprotective effects, and aid in repairing UV-induced skin inflammation, oxidative stress, and DNA damage.
- Flavonoids – Decrease the risk of photoaging and cancer and aid in inflammation reduction
- Vitamin C – Especially when consumed orally, Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which aids in natural collagen production and is attributed to healthy skin
- Vitamin E – Considered a strong antioxidant, Vitamin E helps reduce free radical damage and slows the aging process of your cells
Now that you’re caught up on all the facts, let’s dive into how you can increase your antioxidant intake and defend your skin against free radicals. We’ve dug deep, and compiled the top three MUST haves to boost antioxidants, scavenge those free radicals, and save your beautiful cells now.
Top three methods to boost natural antioxidants and protect yourself from free radicals
1) You are what you eat
Before we were exposed to refined sugars, pollution, and other external detriments, our required antioxidants could easily be found in what we ate – now that we’ve got modern life to contend with, we need to dive a bit deeper. Here are some of the best sources of antioxidants to incorporate into your diet:
- Grapes, dark chocolate, peanuts, blueberries, and pistachios are all high in resveratrol.
- Broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and other cruciferous vegetables are high in sulforaphane. Oh, and a quick tip, if you want to increase the bioavailability of the sulforaphane, eat those vegetables with mustard seed or powder for optimal benefits.
- Tomatoes, guava, watermelon, and grapefruit contain high amounts of lycopene, a type of carotenoid.
- Carrots, squash, apricots, and oranges are also high in carotenoids.
- Oranges and strawberries are often talked about for their vitamin C content, however lesser known sources such as sweet yellow peppers, thyme, guava, and kale (to name a few) are actually higher in Vitamin C.
- Pecans and walnuts top the list for fantastic sources of vitamin E.
Now that you’re armed with the optimal sources of antioxidants to add to your diet, it’s time to talk about what you may be missing.
2) Supplement your nutrition
A large percentage of people don’t get the recommended amount of important nutrients from food alone. Even if you do have an incredibly healthy diet, your body may not be able to absorb all of the nutrients that it takes in. As you age, your body’s capability to absorb nutrients starts to deteriorate, and malabsorption can become a problem. Supplementation can be used to fill in dietary gaps or aid in cases where malabsorption is a concern.
There are many types of antioxidants that may be better sourced through all-natural supplementation. Some plant-based ingredients to look for in your supplementation include:
- Japanese Knotweed, a great source of resveratrol.
- Polypodium Leucotomos, a strong polyphenol.
- Citrus Bioflavonoids a powerful flavonoid and source of vitamin C.
- Amla Fruit, full of several bioactive antioxidant compounds.
- Marigold flower, an optimal source of Lutein, another carotenoid.
- Astaxanthin, a superior and potent carotenoid.
These naturally sourced antioxidants provide multiple benefits that can’t easily be obtained through diet alone. From repairing cellular and UV damage, to regenerating and replenishing aging cells, to reducing inflammation, to boosting immunity, and enhancing cognitive and neurological function, science-backed supplements are key in healthy aging and annihilating free radicals.
3) Wear Sunscreen
UV rays from sun exposure are one of the most common external causes of free radicals, which, in excess, can cause skin aging and even cancer. You may not be able to (or want to) avoid all exposure to UV rays, but you can decrease the potential damage by wearing sunscreen and limiting your time in direct sunlight.
That said, not all sunscreen is created equally and you want to make sure the sunscreen you’re applying is non-toxic, and ideally reef safe. Chemical based sunscreens with ingredients like oxybenzone may cause more harm than good to both your skin and the environment. Choose clean, chemical-free sunscreens with broad spectrum protection. Additionally, limit sunlight exposure to 30 minutes, and make sure you’re reapplying your sunscreen every two hours.
By optimizing your diet to include healthy, natural antioxidant sources, filling in your nutritional gaps through well researched, plant based supplements, and wearing sunscreen, you can prevent collagen loss, repair cellular damage, and do some good for your overall wellbeing too!