What is a free radical (pro-oxidant)?
Basically, it’s an atom (or molecule) with a missing (unpaired) electron. Because of the missing electron it acts like a thief searching for the nearest atom in order to steal an electron from it, which in turn makes that atom a free radical. If this continues unchecked, our bodies become flooded with free radicals, causing cell damage, which can in turn lead to illness and disease like arthritis (degenerative and inflammatory), cancer, vision loss, Alzheimer’s and so on.
Some free radicals are produced naturally by the body’s defence system in order to fight viruses and diseases so they do have a role to play. But when you include a poor diet, lack of exercise, pollution, smoking, alcohol and all the things that are generally bad for us, this contributes to an excess of free radicals and it’s this excess that can cause problems.
In the same way a neglected car gets rusty, so it is with our bodies. If we neglect ourselves, free radicals start to oxidise the body (cellular oxidisation) resulting in a chain reaction that over time contributes to the deterioration of our health and the ageing process.
What is an antioxidant?
Antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E, which are plentiful in fresh fruits and vegetables, can help to combat free radicals because they carry extra electrons for the free radicals to take, thereby neutralising its damaging effect.
Many creams and moisturisers contain antioxidants because they are anti-ageing but if you don’t take care of your inside, no cream can help, no matter what the anti-ageing claims on the label are. Pay close attention to the next TV advert. Notice the claim ‘may help reduce the ‘appearance’ of fine lines and wrinkles’. That’s right, it’s only the appearance and even that can not be guaranteed. These products do nothing to repair or remove fine lines and wrinkles – they just provide a temporary mask.
This is not to say that face creams are no good because they do moisturise and rehydrate the outer layers of the skin which can indeed help you look more radiant. But whilst there is positive research available on antioxidants, this is generally in relation to how they act inside the body rather than topically. The anti-ageing properties of antioxidants in topical creams have not been proven to benefit the skin in the way manufactures may imply.
The Advertising Standards Agency ensures that no unproved claims are made, including unrealistic airbrushing techniques. A quick internet search will reveal the sort of ads that have been banned because they’ve been considered false advertising.
In one study, fruit flies were genetically modified so their bodies produced more antioxidants and fewer free radicals and the result was they lived 50% longer. Promising results have also been produced with rats but as for humans there has not yet been any significant scientific evidence to show that antioxidants can prolong life. However, there is plenty of evidence that shows antioxidants do indeed combat free radicals, which in turn can help combat disease and the signs of ageing.
When it comes to preparing your meals it’s always going to be personal choice. Antioxidants are present in pretty much all fruits and vegetables but here’s a small list of foods have high antioxidant content:
Red (kidney) beans ~ Blueberries ~ Broccoli ~ Cranberries ~ Artichokes ~ Strawberries
Pecans ~ Garlic ~ Avocado ~ Tomatoes ~ Spinach ~ Red peppers ~ Green tea
And here’s a quick recipe to get you started.
Steam some broccoli. Dry roast some pine nuts. Crush a clove or two of garlic and mix together with some fresh lemon or lime juice, extra virgin olive oil and good quality balsamic vinegar. Combine together in a bowl and grate over some parmesan cheese.
10 minutes for a very delicious, nutritious snack, lunch, side dish or meal. Judge the ingredients yourself according to your taste and how hungry you feel. And most importantly make sure you have fun in the kitchen and don’t be afraid to experiment.
© Gary Lloyd
Free radicals vs antioxidants by Gary Lloyd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.