Free radicals: they sound like an 80s rock cover band but really they’re molecules in our bodies that could be stealing our youthful appearance.
Our bodies produce free radicals – unstable reactive molecules with a free electron. Electrons usually exist in pairs so the free radical roam around the body latching onto whatever electron it can find in order to become a pair. By breaking apart other electron pairs, cells are unable to function properly. The leftover single electron cell tries to find another electron and, like dominoes, a chain reaction of destroying healthy cells and membranes starts to take place. Free radicals can attack cell membranes, fat molecules or tissue linings. The damage done by free radicals is known as oxidation, aka combined with oxygen. You know when the flesh of an avocado starts to turn brown? Well, that’s oxidation at its finest.
But it’s not just avocados that need to be afraid; oxidation via free radicals is one of the leading contributors to ageing. Continually having too many free radicals in the body contributes to the hardening and shrinking of collagen fibres that causes skin to age and wrinkles to form. We lose that youthful elasticity that keeps our skin looking fresh.
There’s no need to be too alarmed – after all, free radicals are a natural response to normal bodily functions such as breathing and the metabolism of oxygen. It’s totally normal to have a few of these floating around! That said, an abundance of free radicals could be caused by toxins and pollutants associated with poor diet, smoking, alcohol, intense exercise and high amounts of stress.
The best way to protect the body from free radical damage is to eat a diet high in antioxidants also known as free radical scavengers. Free radical scavengers protect us by binding to the free radical and preventing them from ruining healthy cells and normal body function. Common antioxidants are:
- Zinc – this essential mineral promotes collagen production and repairs skin. Zinc can easily be included in your diet via spinach, egg yolks, pumpkin seeds, pecans, brazil nuts, tahini and grass-fed meats.
- Vitamin E – helps protect the skin from oxidative damage and promotes skin renewal. Its function is enhanced by other antioxidants such as vitamin Food sources of vitamin E are wheat germ oil, avocado, almonds and pecans.
- Vitamin C –one of the most important functions of vitamin C is the formation and maintenance of collagen. Berries, kiwi fruit, vegetables, lemons, oranges, grapefruits and parsley are all excellent sources of vitamin C.
- Selenium –this powerful lesser-known antioxidant protects the skin from inflammation and aging. Food sources of selenium are brazil nuts (2–4 daily), seafood, eggs and red meat.
- Green tea – the benefits of green tea extend to include youthfulness.Green tea is a powerful antioxidant containing polyphenols. Drinking 1–2 cups daily can slow collagen breakdown.
Diet is such a simple way to increase your levels of antioxidants. Just by eating fresh organic food – some avocado, a few nuts, a small piece of red meat – you can fight the pesky free radicals and hold on to your radiant youthful skin – at least for a little longer!