You have probably heard the word “Antioxidant” used lots of times in regards to skincare and nutrition, but you may not exactly understand exactly what they are or how to get enough of them! They have amazing health benefits and help prevent heart disease, liver disease and some cancers, they can also offer protection against other age related conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Antioxidants are also know as Free Radical Scavengers and are the best defence against oxidative damage and will help prevent wrinkles! That is enough reason to start guzzling the Pomegranate Juice!!
To understand what Antioxidants do, we must first understand oxidation, this is easy – imagine an apple that has fallen from its tree and laid on the ground in the sun – it soon goes brown and shrivels up! Our skin, unlike the apple has a constant supply of nourishment from within (as long as we eat well and hydrate ourselves!) but the effects of the environment will eventually take their toll. As our outermost layer, our skin is constantly exposed to environmental factors which influence its health and appearance. Ironically most of the oxidants in the body are actually toxic forms of one of our most essential elements – Oxygen.
Oxidants – also known as Free Radicals and Reactive Oxygen Species, are the body’s equivalent of nuclear waste which must be disposed of to remove the danger! Think of them as sparks being generated by our bodies burning glucose to make energy in our cells, or by pollution, UV and smoking. These sparks or oxidants, cause damage to cells and need to be put out! This is where Antioxidants play their part! they are like the fire extinguishers for the sparks.
Without being too technical (or boring!), here is a brief explanation of how oxidants wreak their havoc – first imagine millions of atoms in our bodies, and in the chemicals in the environment. Each atom has a paired positive and negative charge (electrons) which keep it nice and balanced. An oxidant is, in contrast unbalanced and highly reactive. It is an atom with one of its electrons missing, so it causes chaos by trying to steal one from a nearby atom. As you can imagine, the theft of an electron itself creates another oxidant and so the process continues in a cascade of damage to vital skin components (not to mention your internal bits as well). Oxidants are very destructive overall because they damage fats, proteins, connective tissue and DNA.
Some oxidants arise normally during metabolism, sometimes the body’s immune system’s cells create them on purpose to neutralize viruses and bacteria. Normally the body can handle them, but if Antioxidants are unavailable, or if the Free Radical production becomes excessive (UV damage and smoking!) then damage occurs.
By understanding this process, we can defeat it! and stay healthier and younger looking for longer! Smoking creates something like 500,000 Free Radicals at every puff! that is why smokers age at double the rate, and are at risk of more cancers than non-smokers – very scary!
“The Free Radical is the source for virtually all disease, illness and ageing itself”
Antioxidants to the rescue!!– The most well known antioxidants are Vitamins A, C and E, Beta-Carotene and in the minerals Copper, Zinc and Selenium. Dietary compounds are believed to be even more powderful, these include Lycopene (tomatoes), Anthocyanins (cranberries), Lutein (leafy greens) and Flavanoids ( Green Tea, White Tea, Rooibos Tea and Red Wine). Other excellent sources of antioxidants include Blueberries,Pomegranate and Acai fruits, and herbs like Turmeric, Ginger and Cinnamon. We should aim to get some of these from our diet as they are the most effective sources – however I think a supplement is well worth taking as we don’t always manage the perfect diet! While ingesting Antioxidants can effectively scavenge Free Radicals, our skin is often the last to get its ration of Antioxidants. That is when topically applied cosmetics come into play.
Scientists have been studying an entire host of plant antioxidants that, when applied topically, can help us fight Free Radicals and protect our skin, look our for some of the above ingredients in your skin care formulas and make sure the Vitamins are in a stable form to keep them potent especially in your sun care products – it has been proven that they give you further protection for your skin cells. Look for some of the same Antioxidants as above, especially Vitamins A, C and E, Resveratrol (from red wine) is the new super-antioxidant to watch out for and Green and White Teas are always a great choice. Antioxidants are a preventative measure only, and cannot make your wrinkles you already have go away!
Our body actually creates antioxidant systems as well, some of these are enzyme systems and others are amino acids, like Glutathione, which can stop Free Radicals in their tracks!
We need a healthy balanced diet for our body to do what it can to repair and heal itself, Antioxidants are basically like insurance for our skin and our health! prevention is better than cure!
Make sure you are including loads of Antioxidant rich fruit and veg and get a good Antioxidant supplement just to make sure – start from a young age and you will reap the benefits, but it is never too late too prevent further damage.
Right, I’m off for a cup of Green Tea!