If it isn’t broccoli or blueberries, it’s skin cream bragging that it’s chucked full of antioxidants. And by now, we all know antioxidants are good for us. But do you know why? The biggest contributor to aging is the dreaded “free radicals.” And those touted antioxidants are our defense. This article will give a brief overview of free radicals and their impact on human aging. What are Free Radicals? Our bodies create free radicals from such simple acts and digestion or breathing. These are molecules that are not paired with electrons. Searching for balance, free radicals attach themselves to stable molecules in the body and essentially “bully” these stable molecules into giving up their own electrons, destroying the stable molecules which now, themselves, have become free radicals and will continue the process in a chain reaction. These radicals also exist outside the body in the environment in such things as pollution, sunlight and smoking. Besides being a science lesson, what does this mean? Radicals, doing what they do, bring about aging, some serious diseases, and eventually our death.
– Oxidative Stress: Our cells try to detoxify themselves and balance the oxygen in them so they can be healthy. Free radicals cause oxidative stress, inhibiting the cells from performing this successfully. Cells then become damaged and can die. To get a better idea of when oxygen is harmful, think about how when you cut an apple and expose the inside to oxygen, it immediately starts to brown. Same with iron becoming rusty. It is a natural part of existence, but there is help.
– Antioxidants: Now that you’ve figured out oxidative stress, you understand the term “antioxidant.” These nutrients and enzymes stop the destructive oxidative reaction caused by radicals. They are naturally in our body, too, and always at work keeping the balance. However, the older we get, the less of them we have working for us. Simply put, once we’re past our prime reproductive years, our body isn’t as concerned about keeping us super healthy. In terms relating humans as a biological being, we’re used up. However, having brains that aren’t satisfied with giving up on the body so young, we work to replenish and antioxidants to slow down the affects of radicals, thereby slowing down our, well, inevitable death.
Can’t we totally eliminate free radicals and live longer? – Unfortunately, because we create free radicals as part of such basic biological functions as breathing, they cannot be eliminated. However, we can strive to reduce their affects. Eating a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables boosts antioxidants, as does aerobic exercise. Stress reduction is a major combatant to free radical production, as is elimination of such destructive vices as drinking alcohol and smoking. Smoking has a two-sided whammy. While it is an external radical (drastically aging the skin of smokers), it also then is brought into the body to cause internal radicals. Yikes! The use of skincare products with antioxidants creates a barrier against external radicals such as from pollution, and simply using sunscreen every day will cut down on sunlight causing radicals. Free radicals are also known to participate in many diseases such as cancer, stroke, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. While antioxidants can’t cure these diseases, they can help lower the risk. (By Stefano Grossi)