By now, most people are familiar with the term “antioxidants’. We hear it everywhere and see it everywhere. Just a few years ago I only saw antioxidant supplements in health food stores and wellness trade shows, but now you see the word on nearly every supplement, fruit juice, and skin care product. So I think the general public is now aware that antioxidants are good for the skin and the entire body. I have referred to antioxidants several times in blog posts, but I don’t think I have ever told you what they actually are or why they are so good for us. Well that time has come.
The most basic definition of antioxidant is “a chemical compound or substance that inhibits oxidation”. However, I think this one is more descriptive and easier to understand: “A substance, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, or beta carotene that counteracts the damaging effects of oxidation in a living organism”.
Oxidation is the chemical reaction that occurs when oxygen is added to a substance. This causes a loss of electrons, which leads to a change in the chemical properties of the substance, transforming it into something different from its original form.
A perfect example is rust. The original substance is an iron statue. Oxygen is added when the statue gets rained on (water is 2 parts oxygen), and the statue begins to rust. The originally dark, shiny metal is turned to a dull, reddish orange color. The process cannot be reversed, and the metal cannot be restored. Rust is physically and chemically a completely different substance than iron.
This same process happens in our bodies. It’s tricky; because of course our bodies need oxygen for respiration and cell generation. We cannot survive without it. But oxidation still occurs, which leads to free radical formation (due to the loss of electrons). Imagine normally healthy cells and strands of DNA…then imagine them turning to rust. They won’t turn into rust exactly of course, but the free radical damage that occurs due to oxidation can potentially alter healthy cells and DNA. This is how mutations happen, and this is what causes most signs of aging, inflammation, and many diseases.
Our bodies are very intelligently designed. Our bodies naturally produce antioxidants to neutralize the free radical damage that occurs just from performing everyday functions.
However, we have already established that intrinsic factors like stress, poor nutrition, and poor lifestyle choices; and extrinsic factors such as excessive sun exposure, harsh weather, and environmental toxins create many extra free radicals in the body. Our bodies are so bombarded with these free radicals, that they cannot naturally produce enough antioxidants to combat them. This is why we need to take antioxidants.
Fortunately, many foods contain antioxidants. The body recognizes and absorbs antioxidants (and all vitamins and minerals) best from food sources, rather than supplements, so adding antioxidant rich foods to your daily diet is the best way to get them. Some foods that contain high amounts of antioxidants are:
• Tea: Drink high quality white, green, rooibos (red), oolong, black, and herbal teas. They all contain antioxidants (white and green have the most), and they taste great. Unprocessed loose teas will contain the most antioxidants and will taste the best. It is best to avoid bottled iced teas…even the green ones that claim to contain antioxidants. You have to drink the tea right after it is brewed to reap the antioxidant benefits, otherwise they are lost. Plus those bottled drinks are full of sugar and artificial sweeteners, which are not healthy (or necessary).
• Berries and fruits: the darker in color, the higher the antioxidant content. Look for fresh, organic blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, strawberries, pomegranates, aḉai berries, red and black grapes, goji berries, and blackberries. Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, grapefruits, and limes are also excellent sources (Vitamin C).
• Dark, leafy greens like broccoli, kale, and spinach…again, the darker the leaf, the higher the antioxidants.
• Orange and red vegetables: Carrots, tomatoes, beets, and sweet potatoes all contain carotenoids like beta-carotene and lycopene, which are powerful antioxidants.
• Whole grains: contain several antioxidants. Choosing whole grain breads, cereals, and pastas are a great way to incorporate whole grains into your diet.
• Dark chocolate: eating small amounts of chocolate that is at least 70% cacao will give you flavanoid and polyphenol antioxidants.
It is important to apply antioxidants topically in skin care products as well. However, it is important to use a high quality, properly formulated product that will actually allow the ingredients to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin. Otherwise they just lie on top of the skin and get trapped in the upper layers, which can cause other problems. Some antioxidants commonly found in skin care products are:
• Vitamins A, C, and E
• Green Tea
• Pycnogenol, or Grape Seed Extract
• Alpha Lipoic Acid
• Aloe Vera
Consuming antioxidants internally and topically is necessary to help our bodies combat free radical damage, and prevent inflammation, premature aging, and diseases. These foods taste great too, so by choosing to add antioxidants to your diet is not just a healthy decision; it is an enjoyable one too!
Most of the above ingredients are also commonly used in antioxidant supplements. When choosing an antioxidant supplement, liquids are best, because they are more bioavailable, or easily absorbed and utilized, by the body.
There are many very expensive and fancy antioxidant supplements out there that are very well marketed. While they might be high quality, they probably are not any better than a liquid supplement you would find in a quality health food store.
Don’t be glamoured by the glossy ads…just go to a good health food store and ask their vitamin expert for a good recommendation.