We hear about free radicals all the time. Whether in conversation about the latest beauty product or when sharing tips on how to prevent inflammation – free radicals are a hot topic that we just can’t seem to stop talking about. Yet, how many of us understand what they are?

Yes, we know free radicals are bad, but why? Read on as we do a complete breakdown of the biggest contributors to wrinkles and diseases.

What are free radicals?

Free radicals are unstable and highly reactive atoms with an unpaired electron. Surprisingly, free radicals are produced by the body for a purpose. They help with liver detoxification, and they even support immune health. Unfortunately, an excess of free radicals can cause harm.

As free radicals are missing an electron, free radicals will steal an electron from healthy molecules in an attempt to stabilize itself. Unfortunately, this creates a chain reaction as that molecule will turn into a free radical, and will thus seek out an electron.

Free radicals cause oxidative stress which means that there are more free radicals in the body than antioxidants and the excess of free radicals can cause serious damage to one’s health.

What causes free radicals?

The most common causes of free radicals include: free radicals | Longevity LIVE

  • Environmental pollutants (pesticides, smog, ultraviolet radiation)
  • Smoking
  • The consumption of drugs and alcohol
  • High use of antibiotics
  • Overtraining
  • Chronic stress
  • A diet high in fats, oils, sugar, and processed meats and foods
  • Obesity

How do free radicals affect my health?

Free radicals can affect the health of your body and skin in a number of different ways.

For one, free radicals can cause premature aging as they attack the collagen and lipids in your skin. These two proteins not only help maintain the skin’s protective barrier, but they also help to keep your skin supple and firm. A breakdown of either protein can lead to wrinkles, dryness, and dull skin. In fact, oxidative stress is responsible for at least 80% of all skin aging (1).

In other news, a review published in Redox Biology found that free radicals may trigger the growth of amyloid plaques in the brain. These plaques are commonly linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Free radicals have also been linked to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and even kidney disease.

The Power of Antioxidants

Antioxidants are compounds in the body that help to reduce your risk for oxidative stress. They neutralize free radicals by donating an electron to free radicals without becoming reactive free radicals themselves.

Some common antioxidants include vitamins A, C, and E, glutathione, and coenzyme Q10.

What about antioxidant supplements?

Due to a lack of solid research, the FDA has yet to approve antioxidant supplements for medical use. Additionally, research from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Health found that the supplements did little to reduce the risks of developing chronic diseases.

Therefore, you’re going to need to find other ways to increase your body’s antioxidant levels.

Ways to fight free radicals

1. Eat an antioxidant-rich diet  

Antioxidants not only stabilize free radicals but they also help to protect the skin from cellular damage. The best way to get them into your body is through your diet, preferably a plant-based diet.

fruits and veggies seasonal produce [longevity live]Antioxidants can be found in a number of fruits and vegetables. These include squash, peppers, berries, carrots, cruciferous vegetables as well as green leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach.

Antioxidants are also abundant in green tea as well as cocoa so don’t feel too guilty about indulging in a block or two of dark chocolate.

2. Avoid refined sugars and processed foods

Processed foods cause oxidative stress by triggering inflammation, and as inflammation is the core of many chronic diseases, one needs to avoid these types of food.

It’s also advisable to watch your alcohol intake as this too can trigger oxidative stress. 

3. Exercise

A study published in the Oncotarget journal found a strong link between physical activity and reduced risk for oxidative stress. This isn’t surprising considering the fact that exercising has not only been associated with a longer lifespan, but also a decreased risk of disease.

Now while you should do your best to stay active, even during a pandemic, it’s also important to not overwork yourself. Opting out of a rest day won’t only leave you exhausted but it can also trigger oxidative stress (3).

4. Practice stress relief

There is a lot going on in the world, and it’s not doing our stress levels any favors. Unfortunately, chronic stress can trigger the formation of free radicals, which then affects our health.

Now while we can’t completely rid our lives of stress, there are ways to manage it. This includes yoga, breathing exercises, reading a book, or even turning your home into your own personal spa.

5. Get enough quality sleep

Sleep

The body needs sleep. It needs to rest and it needs an opportunity to properly repair itself. Inadequate sleep not only triggers oxidative stress, aging your skin, but it has also been linked to lower levels of antioxidants (4).

If you are battling with your sleep patterns, there are plenty of ways you can get a better night’s rest. This includes essential oils, food, or even redecorating your bedroom.

6. Use adaptogens

Adaptogens are herbs that contain stress-relieving properties. They make the body more resilient to stressors like oxidative stress.

Popular adaptogens include ashwagandha, ginseng, Rhodiola rosea, and holy basil.

7. Include antioxidants in your skincare

If you’re worried about the harm that free radicals can cause to your skin then you may want to look at the topical application of antioxidants.

Skincare products will contain popular and effective antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E as well as CoQ10. Each antioxidant won’t only protect the skin, but it will also address the skin issues caused by oxidative stress. This includes the loss of elasticity and texture and the formation of wrinkles and fine lines.

8. Wear sunscreen

sunscreen | Longevity LIVEAs we’ve mentioned, the majority of skin aging is triggered by UV radiation. Now, while there are sun-protective foods, nothing beats the effectiveness of a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 50.

Sunscreen should be worn every day, and that includes when you’re indoors as the sun’s aging rays can still penetrate through the windows of your home.

Want to know more?

While there are foods and essential oils that can help reverse the effects of premature aging, adding flavor to our food with delicious spices can also do the same. In fact, there are anti-aging spices that can help you reverse the aging process.

References

Cheignon, C., Tomas, M., Bonnefont-Rousselot, D., Faller, P., Hureau, C., & Collin, F. (2018). Oxidative stress and the amyloid beta peptide in Alzheimer’s disease. Redox biology14, 450–464. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.redox.2017.10.014
Everson, C.A., Laatsch, C.D, Hogg, N. (2005), Antioxidant defense responses to sleep loss and sleep recovery. American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 288:2, R374-R383. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpregu.00565.2004
Guan L., Mehra R., Baron E. (2015) Sleep and Aging Skin. In: Farage M., Miller K., Maibach H. (eds) Textbook of Aging Skin. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-27814-3_155-1
Kannan S. (2006). Free radical theory of autoimmunity. Theoretical biology & medical modelling3, 22. https://doi.org/10.1186/1742-4682-3-22
Ling, X.C., Kuo, K. Oxidative stress in chronic kidney disease. Ren Replace Ther 4, 53 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41100-018-0195-2
Poljšak, B., & Dahmane, R. (2012). Free radicals and extrinsic skin aging. Dermatology research and practice2012, 135206. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/135206
Saha, S. K., Lee, S. B., Won, J., Choi, H. Y., Kim, K., Yang, G. M., Dayem, A. A., & Cho, S. G. (2017). Correlation between Oxidative Stress, Nutrition, and Cancer Initiation. International journal of molecular sciences18(7), 1544. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms18071544
Simioni, C., Zauli, G., Martelli, A. M., Vitale, M., Sacchetti, G., Gonelli, A., & Neri, L. M. (2018). Oxidative stress: role of physical exercise and antioxidant nutraceuticals in adulthood and aging. Oncotarget9(24), 17181–17198. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.24729
Steven, S., Frenis, K., Oelze, M., Kalinovic, S, et al. (2019). Vascular Inflammation and Oxidative Stress: Major Triggers for Cardiovascular Disease. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2019. 1-26. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/7092151
Viña, J., Gomez-Cabrera, M. C., Lloret, A., Marquez, R., Miñana, J. B., Pallardó, F. V., & Sastre, J. (2000). Free radicals in exhaustive physical exercise: mechanism of production, and protection by antioxidants. IUBMB life50(4-5), 271–277. https://doi.org/10.1080/713803729
Yaribeygi, H., Atkin, S. L., & Sahebkar, A. (2019). A review of the molecular mechanisms of hyperglycemia-induced free radical generation leading to oxidative stress. Journal of cellular physiology234(2), 1300–1312. https://doi.org/10.1002/jcp.27164
Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba is a beauty and wellness writer, who has a passion for poetry, natural hair, and skin-care. With a journalism degree from Pearson's Institute of Higher Education, and identifiable by either her large afro or colorful locks, Pie aspires to continuously provide the latest information, be it beauty or wellness, on how one can adopt a healthy lifestyle on a day to day basis.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.