Free radicals have become a household name as most cosmetics and anti-aging beauty lines claim to fight them off in efforts to prevent signs of aging. However, these atoms also have a host of other health implications and they are important to note as we all age. Aside from physical signs of aging, free radicals have been associated with cancer and other diseases, so understanding how to combat them with the help of proper nutrition and lifestyle changes is crucial to our health outcomes.
A free radical is an atom that has an unpaired electron. This means that it seeks other healthy and whole atoms to latch onto in order to steal their electron and become whole. Because they damage and attack other healthy cells, they are then a threat to the rest of your body and their function needs to be prevented. They are so much of a threat that researchers have associated them with various age-related diseases. What may seem like minor cell damage at the level of one free radical has the ability of turning into mass cell damage and the cause of disease over a period of time.
The National Institute of Cancer has made a startling claim that about one third of cancer-related deaths can be attributed to diet. This not only suggests, but warns us all to be completely aware of the foods that we are eating and preparing for our families. Antioxidant rich foods have been shown to both help in the prevention of cancer, as well as reduce the size of present tumors.
Free radicals tend to be highly energetic since they are in desperate search for an electron. This means that they have the ability to damage other cells at a fast rate. Smoking is a surefire way to release these high energy atoms, which is why smokers tend to age prematurely by visible signs showing in their skin. Free radicals also interfere with the natural aging of DNA, RNA, fats and lipids so interrupting this process can literally make our bodies age before they normally would without free radical damage.
In order to discuss which foods may work best in protecting against free radicals, it is important to first understand the scale on which they are ranked. The Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) scale is used to measure various foods and their levels of antioxidants. The foods that score the highest are then seen as those that may pack the most punch in fighting against free radicals. Therefore, incorporating some of the foods that rank highest may help in preventing physical signs of age and age-related diseases. Some of the highest-ranking ORAC foods are goji berries, dark chocolate, raspberries, prunes, blueberries, garlic, kale, yellow squash, etc. By simply printing out a list of some of these ORAC-ranked foods and bringing it along to the grocery store, you can improve your diet by making it healthy and as free-radical-preventing as possible.
It is recommended that in order to maintain an effective antioxidant-rich diet, you should strive to get 5-8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Some people may want to go overboard, especially if they are already beginning to see signs of age-related conditions, however more does not necessarily mean better results. Following the recommended servings should allow you to reap the total benefits.
Going back to the definition of a free radical, the reason why they are so damaging in the first place is the fact that they are preying on other molecules in order to become complete. What antioxidants do is donate an electron to these unpaired molecules so that they do not then have to go and steal one from another healthy cell. Antioxidants are stable on their own and therefore can afford to make this donation.
Vitamin E: One key element is Vitamin E, which is the most plentiful fat-soluble antioxidant found in the body. This vitamin is great at fighting against oxidation, in particular. It helps neutralize already existing free radicals as well as aid in the process of DNA repair. You can find this vitamin in dark leafy greens, whole grains, and nuts and nut butters.
Vitamin C: Another one is Vitamin C, which is water-soluble and works mainly in the cellular fluid. This vitamin is particularly useful for preventing damage that can be caused by pollution and cigarette smoke. We know that Vitamin C helps to boost our immune system and prevent disease and it similarly has the same effect with antioxidants. Some Vitamin C dense foods include spinach, peppers, citrus fruits and brussel sprouts.
Beta Carotene: Beta carotene is an element found in foods that is also a great free radical preventer. You can detect foods with this nutrient because it gives off a bright orange color (e.g. carrots). This element is said to increase the body’s defense mechanism in order to prevent the formation of free radicals in the first place.
Selenium: This mineral is actually not an antioxidant itself, although it plays a role in fighting against free radicals by aiding in the prevention of their formation. Some examples of foods that contain this mineral are Brazil nuts, brown rice, wheat germ, chicken and eggs.
Remember, that there is no magic bullet when it comes to preventing age-related health conditions. Stocking up on one food group,in particular, will not create prevention, alone. You are best off maintaining a diet that has a lot of variety and includes many of the antioxidant-rich food sources. Taking a holistic approach to anti-aging and disease prevention is your best bet to a healthier life.