This article is going to be slightly longer because it contains some very important information, crucial to youth preservation. You may have heard various discussions about the effects of free radicals on the body and the anti-aging benefits of antioxidants, but maybe you’re unsure about what those things actually are?
To properly understand free radicals and their dangers, we must first do a bit of science. Don’t worry; it won’t be too complicated!
The human body is composed of cells that are made up of different molecules. Molecules consist of one or more atoms of one or more elements joined by chemical bonds. You may remember from school that atoms contain a nucleus, neutrons, protons and electrons. The most important structural feature for determining an atom’s chemical behavior is the number of electrons in its outer shell. Atoms sometimes complete their outer shells by sharing electrons with other atoms.
Normally, molecules aren’t left with an odd, unpaired electron, but when weak bonds split, free radicals are formed. Free radicals are desperate to capture that much needed, missing electron for stability. Unstable free radicals will attack the nearest stable molecule, and when this happens, the ‘attacked’ molecule becomes a free radical itself. This chain reaction can escalate and disrupt a living cell.
Free radicals are not always 100 percent bad and occur naturally during metabolism. The body’s immune system will often create them to neutralize harmful bacteria and viruses, and the liver uses free radicals for detoxification. Unfortunately, factors such as cigarette smoke, alcohol, herbicides, high emotional and physical stress, a poor diet and environmental pollutants can also create an abundance of free radicals.
Oxidation: Free Radical Damage and Accelerated Aging
Normally, free radicals (also called reactive oxygen species [ROS]) and other molecules called reactive nitrogen species (RNS) strike a balance with antioxidants in the body. The problems occur when this balance is disturbed, due to low levels of antioxidants and accumulation of free radicals, and can lead to accelerated aging.
Oxidation is the same process that causes rust and makes apples go brown. Cascading free radicals are reacting with compounds inside the body and oxidizing them. This has a damaging effect on cells, tissue, muscles, organs, etc. High amounts of oxidative stress affect every system and organ in the body and have been linked with both accelerated aging and the most rampant chronic disorders and diseases killing adults today, especially diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
So what can we do to counteract out of control free radical damage? It’s time to talk about antioxidants. Antioxidants are chemicals that can prevent or slow cell damage. It’s misleading to think of them as a ‘substance,’ as an antioxidant is really a behavior; it’s any compound that can donate electrons to free radicals and stop their oxidizing rampage! Because of their unusual characteristics, antioxidants can remain stable after they have donated an electron to a free radical molecule. In other words, they stabilize the free radical and don’t become one in the process.
Although the body produces some antioxidants on its own, it doesn’t create enough to protect the body against free radicals – especially as today’s modern lifestyle of bad food, not enough exercise and toxic pollution is giving free radicals even more of a boost. If you want to stay stronger and live a longer, healthier lifespan, then you need to be adopting crucial youth preservation principles, including providing your body with antioxidants via the right whole foods, drinks and supplements.
Let’s look at five of the most important antioxidants.
I thought we’d start with probably one of the most important antioxidants; something Dr. Mark Hyman calls “The mother of all antioxidants” – glutathione. Glutathione is a simple molecule that is produced naturally in the body, but its simplicity belies its significance in maintaining a healthy immune system and its importance for youth preservation. Over 129,000 studies have been carried out to investigate glutathione’s positive effects on fighting cancer, preventing heart disease and dementia, treating autism and Alzheimer’s disease and much more.
Even though glutathione is produced by the body, unfortunately, an alarming number of people are deficient in this powerhouse molecule. There could be several reasons for this, including environmental toxins, poor diet, stress, infections and pollution. Normally glutathione is recycled in the body, but when toxic loads become too great, this doesn’t happen and explains why our bodies can get into so much trouble. Low levels of glutathione can lead to cell disintegration from oxidative stress and the effects of increased free radicals. Crucially, your liver gets overloaded and is impaired in its job of detoxification.
If you want to give your body a boost in its glutathione production, you need to make sure your diet includes plenty of sulfur-rich foods. This may sound unpleasant, but we’re talking about delicious stuff like onions, garlic, broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, etc. Exercise also increases your glutathione levels, so where possible, you should be aiming for at least 30 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise a day – walking, jogging and taking part in various sports.
If you want to know more about glutathione and how to maximize your natural production, see my article, here.
Vitamin E is the collective name for a group of fat-soluble compounds found naturally in some foods, added to others and available as a dietary supplement. Vitamin E’s role in keeping certain organs functioning properly is extremely important, and it is useful in promoting youth preservation. The oxidation of naturally occurring cholesterol by free radicals is a danger to human health, and studies have shown that vitamin E can be a vital factor in stopping this.
Vitamin E helps the skin’s healing process and can be used to treat sunburn, one of the leading causes of skin cancer. Vitamin E’s cell regeneration properties can be beneficial in treating wrinkles, scars and acne; making your skin look younger and healthier. Research has proven vitamin E’s anti-inflammatory benefits and combined with its ability to improve moisture and elasticity it acts as a natural anti-aging nutrient.
Everybody knows vitamin C is good for you. From protecting ancient mariners from the effects of scurvy to helping to counteract the miseries of the common cold, vitamin C is one of the most effective nutrients. Vitamin C is essential for the growth, development and repair of all body tissues. It helps the formation of collagen, wound healing and the maintenance of bones and teeth.
A study published by Dr. Mark Moyad of the University of Michigan reviewed a decade of previous research into the benefits of vitamin C. “Vitamin C has received a great deal of attention, and with good reason. Higher blood levels of vitamin C may be the ideal nutrition marker for overall health,” says Dr. Moyad. “The more we study vitamin C, the better our understanding of how diverse it is in protecting our health, from cardiovascular, cancer, stroke, eye health [and] immunity to living longer.”
Beta-carotene is a carotenoid we acquire from eating certain fruits and vegetables. It is a fat-soluble nutrient, which means our bodies absorb it best when we eat it with a source of good fat, like olive oil, nuts or avocado. In the body, beta-carotene converts into vitamin A, which we need for good eye health, healthy skin and a strong immune system. Beta-carotene is a phytonutrient that helps to fight off free radical damage, protects us from disease and lowers inflammation.
Good sources of beta-carotene include foods like spinach, sweet potatoes, squash and carrots. Like all carotenoids, beta-carotene has proven to be an antioxidant with excellent cancer-fighting properties.
Found naturally in the soil, selenium is a trace mineral that occurs in some foods and is also present in water, but in small amounts. Like all of the antioxidants in this list, selenium fights off the aging process and helps the immune system by reducing free radical damage. It also combines with vitamin E to fight oxidative stress and is thought to also defend against cancers like colon and prostate cancer.
Because selenium is a trace mineral, we only need a small amount of it. However, as it plays an important part in a lot of bodily functions, it is easy to flush selenium out of our system quickly. Studies have been carried out to examine if selenium can treat dozens of conditions, ranging from asthma and arthritis to heart disease and thyroid issues. Foods naturally high in selenium include Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, eggs and liver. I take one Brazil nut a day with my daily vitamins!
You may be tempted to read the names of all these useful antioxidants and then go looking for anti-aging supplements to provide a quick fix. A word of warning – this is not a useful way to balance out poor nutrition or unhealthy lifestyle choices. Also, don’t forget that not all free radicals are dangerous and high doses of concentrated antioxidant supplements could cause problems for your immune system. Like most things we encounter when we discuss youth preservation, it’s only regimented dedication to healthy lifestyle principles that will give you the longevity results you desire. Eat the right whole foods, exercise regularly and properly, meditate, take care of your skin, understand your supplementation and learn to manage stress.