One of the main contributors to ageing skin and health, in general, is reactive oxygen species or free radicals. Free radicals damage healthy cells and cause inflammation in organs, tissues and the skin. Free radical damage can also lead to chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, degenerative brain disease and cancer. We get free radicals from pollution within the
environment, smoking, alcohol, a high-stress lifestyle and a highly processed diet void of any real nutrition.
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are scavengers that seek and destroy free radicals. In order to understand how antioxidants work, imagine a situation in which you are chronically stressed. Your body is exposed to an increasing number of free radicals. If you consume enough micronutrients to provide the body with antioxidants, then you can replenish your tissues and organs by getting rid of excess free radicals. However, if you do not get enough nutrients, this sets the stage for the prematurely aged skin as well as more dangerous diseases.
Important Antioxidants to Remember
Since antioxidants are critical to good health, it is important to understand which ones are the key players in protecting the body.
Vitamin E was given its name from the Greek words, tocos (childbirth), pheros (to bear) and ol (alcohol).
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and is made up of eight different types: alpha, beta, gamma, delta tocopherol and alpha, beta, gamma, delta tocotrienol. Although the tocopherol form of vitamin E is the predominant one found in most cells and tissues, research shows that tocotrienols have different and superior biological properties that may be useful for prevention and therapy against chronic disease.1
A 2015 animal study found that tocotrienols were much more effective than tocopherols at reducing inflammation and restoring endothelial function. The study also found that tocomin, an extract of palm oil that is rich in tocotrienols, was more effective than tocotrienols and tocopherols alike, at reducing inflammation in endothelial cells. This may suggest that natural forms of vitamin E, which are rich in tocotrienols, may benefit health more than artificially produced tocopherols or tocotrienols.2
Rich food sources of vitamin E:
Vitamin E is predominantly found in foods such as almonds, sunflower seeds, spinach, beet greens, pumpkin, red peppers, asparagus, collard greens, swordfish, mango, and avocado. In
general, nut and seed oils can be a naturally rich source of vitamin E. Palm oil is a rich source of tocotrienols, which have a beneficial effect on the body.3
Vitamin C is an essential part of a healthy diet because it fights inflammation by reducing oxidative stress. Most mammals can produce their own vitamin C whereas humans cannot and need to obtain it from their diet.4 Since vitamin C is another strong antioxidant, it is imperative to eat nutrient dense food to obtain therapeutic amounts.
It has been documented in history that vitamin C helps protect against cardiovascular disease and has been shown to have therapeutic effects in diseases involving oxidative stress (these include diabetes and cancer.)7
When it comes to anti-ageing and skin health, vitamin C is a main ingredient used in the formation of collagen. As one ages, he or she has a decreased ability to form collagen on his or her own. Therefore, increased intake of vitamin C in addition to amino acids such as glycine and lysine are critical to improve skin and protect against premature ageing.
Rich food sources of vitamin C:
Vitamin C can be found in all fruits and vegetables. Therefore, eating a diet that is predominantly plant-based will help you to increase the amount of vitamin C you get. Rich sources of vitamin C include oranges, red peppers, kale, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, strawberries, grapefruit, guava, kiwi and green peppers.8
Resveratrol is a naturally occurring flavonoid phytoalexin, which has antioxidant properties and is useful in the treatment of numerous diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and degenerative brain disease. It also has vasoprotective properties. 9, 10
Many studies have linked the therapeutic benefits of moderate red wine consumption with resveratrol, which is found in red grapes, and in plants that can survive harsh environmental conditions. 11, 12
In vitro studies have found resveratrol to neutralize free radicals and to inhibit low-density lipoprotein (LPL) oxidation. Resveratrol was also found to induce antioxidant enzymes such as glutathione (discussed below). 13, 14, 15
Rich food sources of resveratrol
Resveratrol is found in red and white wine, grapes, pistachios, blueberries, raspberries, cocoa and dark chocolate. Although resveratrol is found in red and white wine, alcohol consumption should remain limited.
Turmeric, which is a spice derived from the tropical plant, Curcuma longa, has been used in India for medicinal purposes for centuries.16 Curcumin is the main ingredient of turmeric that has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activities.
Curcumin acts as an antioxidant and can scavenge free radicals in vitro. 17, 18 In vivo, curcumin took orally was sufficient enough to protect the gastrointestinal tract from oxidative stress.19 Curcumin also has the ability to activate the synthesis of the antioxidant enzyme glutathione, which increases the detoxification ability of the body.20
Curcumin has strong anti-inflammatory qualities as it is able to balance the immune system by inhibiting mediators of the inflammatory response such as cytokines, chemokines, adhesion, growth factors and other enzymes. Curcumin has been shown to decrease inflammation within the gastrointestinal tract and the brain. 21, 22
Glutathione can be classified as the master of all antioxidants because it is found inside of every cell and can maximise the performance of other antioxidants like vitamins C and E and alpha lipoic acid.
Glutathione is also essential to the detoxification processes of the liver and is important in maintaining a healthy metabolism, as it protects the thyroid. Glutathione is responsible for clearing the excess hydrogen peroxide made when thyroid hormones are created. If excess hydrogen peroxide is not cleared, free radical formation can take place. In fact, decreased levels of glutathione have been associated with increased antibodies in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Foods that boost glutathione levels:
You cannot directly get glutathione from the diet; however, you can eat foods that naturally boost glutathione levels. These include milk thistle, whey protein, sulphur-containing foods like broccoli, cauliflower, kale and mustard greens, alpha lipoic acid, lentils, black-eyed peas, asparagus, selenium-rich foods like brazil nuts or halibut, foods rich in vitamin C and E and beef liver.
Alpha Lipoic Acid
Animals, plants, and humans can synthesise alpha lipoic acid (ALA), which is a compound that acts as a potent antioxidant. It is found in every cell in the human body and it works to neutralise free radicals in order to prevent damage to cells. Alpha lipoic acid also helps turn glucose into usable energy by the body.
Taking alpha lipoic acid as a supplement has been shown by studies to have many health benefits, especially in alleviating inflammatory chronic diseases such as diabetes.23
ALA can also enhance energy metabolism and increases the use of glutathione within the body. It is both water and fat-soluble and has the potential to bind to heavy metals such as arsenic and mercury.24
Rich food sources of ALA:
ALA can be found in broccoli, spinach, red meat, organ meat, Brussel sprouts, tomatoes, peas, Brewer’s yeast, beets, and carrots.
Coenzyme Q10 is a fat-soluble molecule with potent antioxidant activity within the body. Humans are capable of producing coenzyme Q10, however, this ability is reduced with ageing.25
Coenzyme Q10 is vital to the conversion of carbohydrates into energy and has three forms, ubiquinol, the radical semiquinone intermediate and ubiquinone.
The reduced form of coenzyme Q10, ubiquinol, is a fat-soluble antioxidant, which neutralises free radicals as well as regenerates vitamin E.
Rich food sources of Coenzyme Q10:
Coenzyme Q10 can be found in sardines, mackerel, beef, lamb, pork, organ meats and eggs.
Turning theory into practice
It can be overwhelming to try and incorporate all the latest scientific research into your everyday routine. Here are some practical nutrition tips you can use to boost the antioxidant potential of your diet:
Make changes one day at a time. Don’t feel that you have to change your diet from one day to the next. This often results in failure to make sustainable lifestyle changes. Incorporate small, reachable daily goals and eventually, you will be eating an antioxidant-rich diet. For example, if you only eat one fruit and one vegetable every day, increase your fruit and vegetable consumption by one every two days.
Eat the colours of the rainbow. The different colours of fruits and vegetables offer a diverse variety of phytochemicals and antioxidant capacity. Try to incorporate a variety of fruits and vegetables into your daily diet. For example, do not eat only pears. Choose a banana, an apple, and an orange to eat throughout the day.
Avoid foods that cause inflammation. It is often easier for antioxidant-rich foods to work within a low-inflammation environment. In order to achieve this, it is important to avoid processed sugar and white flour as well as processed foods in general. As a rule of thumb, if a packaged food has more than three to four ingredients, don’t eat it. Sugar, white flour and the additives found in processed foods are the major culprits in causing inflammation, which ultimately ends in chronic disease.
Add turmeric to your foods daily. Since curcumin has proven therapeutic effects, using it daily would help to boost your antioxidant potential. Use turmeric in soups, vegetable dishes, stir-fries or drink it as a tea.
Eat probiotic-rich foods daily. In order to absorb antioxidants successfully, it is important to maintain a healthy digestive tract. “Good” bacteria called probiotics are necessary to promote healthy digestion. The easiest way to get probiotics is to drink organic kefir or make home-made sauerkraut or fermented vegetables. With only a few tablespoons of fermented vegetables, you could get trillions of probiotics on a daily basis.
Include cruciferous vegetables often. Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, kale and Brussel sprouts all have amazing capabilities to increase glutathione levels and to increase the natural detoxification processes of the liver and other organs. Therefore, try to rotate between these important vegetables on a weekly basis.
Eat fatty fish. Although fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines are high in omega 3 fatty acids, they are also a rich source of coenzyme Q10. Therefore, from one natural food source, you can get the anti-inflammatory effects of both omega 3 fatty acids and coenzyme Q10.
Diet gives you tools to fight ageing
Although ageing is an inevitable part of life, there are measures you can take to decrease the signs of ageing and to protect against chronic disease. One of these measures is diet. Choosing a diet of real, whole foods, void of inflammation-causing agents such as sugar and white flour and rich in fruits and vegetables is the key to fighting disease and to feeling and looking younger.
References and Sources:
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- Ali, S. F., & Woodman, O. L. (2015). Tocotrienol Rich Palm Oil Extract Is More Effective Than Pure Tocotrienols at Improving Endothelium-Dependent Relaxation in the Presence of Oxidative Stress.Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2015, 150829. http://doi.org/10.1155/2015/150829
- https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-sources-of-vitamin-e/ Accessed February 2nd, 2017
- Michels, A. J., & Frei, B. (2013). Myths, Artifacts, and Fatal Flaws: Identifying Limitations and Opportunities in Vitamin C Research.Nutrients, 5(12), 5161–5192. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu5125161
- Carr, A. C., & Frei, B. (1999). Toward a new recommended dietary allowance for vitamin C based on antioxidant and health effects in humans.The American journal of clinical nutrition, 69(6), 1086-1107. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/69/6/1086.long
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- McGregor, G. P., & Biesalski, H. K. (2006). Rationale and impact of vitamin C in clinical nutrition.Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 9(6), 697-703. DOI:1097/01.mco.0000247478.79779.8f
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