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Antioxidants – What They Are & How They Work

Antioxidants – what they are & how they work

I gave a talk today as part of an anti-ageing weekend. I chose to talk about antioxidants because these natural compounds, found in a range of foods, offer incredible health benefits, not just helping to slow the ageing process.

As a society, we are all pretty obsessed with how old we look i.e. how well our external appearance is coping with the ravages of time. However, this is a fairly superficial sign of how well we are ageing as our biological, or internal ageing process, although not visible, is more important for long term health. The health of your cells, your nerves, brain function like memory, recall, reaction time and balance are all key indicators of how old we really are.

So, when thinking about anti-ageing, think about your insides as well as your external appearance and to benefit both, make sure your diet is packed full of antioxidants every day.

Antioxidants are cell protectors. Our cells are constantly exposed to the damaging effect of free radicals which whiz around the body stealing electrons from healthy cells, leaving damaged, malfunctioning cells in their wake. Antioxidants are self-sacrificing, donating an electron to free radicals to stabilize them and stop them causing biological havoc.

Free radicals come from many sources. Some are unavoidable, they are generated by the normal functioning of our metabolic processes. Add to this a toxic diet full of processed foods, excess sugar, damaged fats, charred foods and artificial additives; toxins from smoking; polluted air; sun damage; heavy metals from aluminium cooking pans, tap water and dental work; perfumes; paint fumes; lack of sleep and the usual culprit, stress it is no surprise we are bombarding our cells with an estimated 10,000 free radical hits per day! By the way, exercising is a major contributor to free radicals in the body, so the more you exercise, the more antioxidant-rich foods you need to be eating.

Free radical damage is strongly associated with diabetes, stroke, heart disease, many cancers and premature ageing. One of the most serious effects of free radical damage is the inflammation it causes. Inflammation is a trigger for many diseases, so foods that are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant are real health heroes. the best of these foods:

  • Dark green leafy veg esp. watercress, kale, spinach, wheat grass
  • Allium Veggies: garlic, onions, leeks, chives
  • Berries esp. blueberries, black currants, black berries, cranberries, goji berries
  • Nuts & seeds esp. pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and pecan nuts
  • Spices esp. turmeric, ginger and chilli
  • Herbs esp. rosemary, basil & oregano
  • Green & white tea
  • Beans & lentils

Some of these super foods are now being labelled with their ORAC score. This stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. The higher the score, the more antioxidant protection. The top 10 foods are (in no particular order): raw chocolate, blueberries, pomegranate, prunes, pecans, cranberries, apples, cinnamon, kale & goji berries, This list does tend to vary depending on the source, but you would do very well to incorporate as many of these foods in to your regular diet as possible.

Finally, a quick word on glutathione: this is the master of all antioxidants. It is made in every cell of your body but post 20 years of age we lose between 8 – 12% of our glutathione production every decade. If you are very stressed, lacking in sleep, have a compromised immune system and/or poor diet, you will be producing even less. Glutathione is the gate keeper to your cells, fending off all those threatening free radicals.

In order to make plenty of glutathione you need plenty of vitamin D plus these foods, which provide the precursors to making glutathione: avocado, onions, garlic, turmeric, spinach, cruciferous veg (broccoli, cabbage, cauli etc) and good quality (i.e. from pasture fed animals) meat, dairy and eggs.

So, for anti-aging protection inside and out – reduce sugar and damaged fats; increase antioxidant-rich foods, keep well hydrated and be happy – remember, being stressed and miserable makes anyone look and feel old 🙂

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