Apparently, the person who coined the phrase “there are no free gifts'' wasn't kidding… Free radicals are everywhere and are affecting you as you stroll down the block, sniff the “fresh” air (maybe not so fresh if you live in LA like me), take a bite of your lunch, spike a volleyball at the beach, or sip a delicious cocktail at the end of a long week. Free radicals cause generative diseases and premature anti-aging.  

`What the heck is a free radical anyway?  First of all the body is under constant attack of oxidative stress through natural biological processes, or introduced from an outside source, like tobacco smoke, sun exposure, toxins, or pollutantsOxidative stress occurs when an oxygen molecule splits into single atoms with unpaired electrons, which are called free radicals.  Oxygen in the body splits into single atoms with unpaired electrons. Electrons like to be in pairs, so these atoms, called free radicals, scavenge the body to seek out other electrons so they can become a pair. This causes damage to cells, proteins and DNA.  In addition, there is a chain reaction associated with free radicals.  

The first free radical pulls an electron from a molecule, which destabilizes the molecule and turns it into a free radical. That molecule then takes an electron from another molecule, destabilizing it and tuning it into a free radical. This domino effect can eventually disrupt and damage the whole cell.  Oxidative stress is a result of too many free radicals and too much cellular damage.  Several studies throughout the last few decades have suggested that oxidative stress plays a role in the development of many conditions, including macular degeneration, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, emphysema, alcoholism, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, ulcers and all inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis and lupus. 

These are the more “scary” effects of FR, but the more common one that people deal with is aging.  Free radicals can damage DNA's instructional code, causing our new cells to grow incorrectly, leading to aging.  See image below of what it looks like as free radicals take their toll. 

The good news is there is something that can be done.  According to LiveScience, antioxidants keep free radicals in check. Antioxidants are molecules in cells that prevent free radicals from taking electrons and causing damage. Antioxidants are able to give an electron to a free radical without becoming destabilized themselves, thus stopping the free radical chain reaction. Antioxidants are natural substances whose job is to clean up free radicals. Just like fiber cleans up waste products in the intestines, antioxidants clean up the free radical waste in the cells.  Well-known antioxidants include beta-carotene and other carotenoids, lutein, resveratrol, vitamin C, vitamin E, lycopene and other phytonutrients. These can be acquired through diet and supplements although whole foods tend to be the more effective route. Antioxidants are plentiful in fruits and vegetables, especially colorful fruits and vegetables such as berries, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, nuts and green tea. For anti-aging purposes you can also apply them topically.  When applied topically, antioxidants can help to slow down the processes which break down the proteins in the skin, such as collagen fibers. This means that you can also slow down the signs of premature skin aging and help your skin to remain supple, bright, and uniform in tone.

Written by Allyson Welch

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