We have all heard of antioxidants. Magazines, skincare products, food and beverages labels keep bombarding us with promises of eternal youth and health benefits if we use products that contain them. But what exactly are antioxidants? And how do they work? To understand that, though, it’s important to know a few facts about free radicals:
What are free radicals and how are they generated?
Free radicals are highly unstable molecules caused by the oxidization process. This happens when an oxygen molecule, which is stable because it has an even number of electrons, is involved in a chemical reaction that causes it to lose one of these electrons. This creates a new molecule called free radical.
Because the free radical molecule is missing one electron, it needs to find another one quickly. To do so, it attacks another molecule to get it, causing damage to DNA, cells and proteins. In addition, it also starts a chain reaction because the cell the free radical has robbed of its electron, now needs to find another one and attacks another molecule. And so on. This chain not only can accelerate the aging process but it can also cause diseases like cancer or heart disease.
But what starts this oxidation process? Well, this can be caused by both external factors like UV radiation, pollution, smoking and alcohol, and body processes like metabolism and inflammation.
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are the body’s defense against the damage caused by the oxidation process that produces free radicals. Popular antioxidants include Vitamins C and E, Selenium, Coenzyme Q10, Flavonoids and Beta-carotene.
They can be classified in two groups: those, like Vitamins C and E, that break the free radical chain and those, like Superoxide Dismutase Enzyme that neutralize the initiating free radicals, slowing down or even preventing the chain reaction.
How to help prevent free radical damage
Free radical damage is constant and over the years, it can cause a lot of harm to our bodies. Unfortunately, our bodies don’t produce enough antioxidants to neutralize all of this damage.
But there are a few things we can do to help prevent, at least in part, free radicals formation like daily use and frequent reapplication of sunscreen, not smoking, not consuming too much alcohol and using skincare products that contain antioxidants.
Some experts also recommend to take antioxidants supplements, but be careful if you plan to do so. It is easy to take too much which isn’t good for your health because, in large quantities, antioxidants can be toxic.
In any case, eating a healthy diet with food rich in antioxidants is more beneficial than getting these substances through supplements. Vitamin E can be found in leafy green vegetables, olives, almonds, peanuts and walnuts, avocado and liver while Vitamin C in citrus fruits, leafy green vegetables, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes and strawberries. Food rich in Betacarotene include mangoes, papaya, peppers, spinach, sweet potatoes and apricot while Selenium can be found in seafood, brown rice, chicken, pork and beef.
Final considerations about antioxidants
Antioxidants can prevent some of the damage caused by free radicals (although it would take years to see the results) but they can’t undo it. This means that they won’t eliminate any sign of aging, like wrinkles, that already exists. Still, it’s important to include antioxidants in your diet and beauty regimen because, as current research shows, they are valid ingredients that can help slow down the ageing process.