Thousands of chemical reactions occur in our bodies every minute of every day. Without them, our bodies would not be able to function properly. Many are the bi-product of breathing in oxygen and the digestion of chemicals in our food and drink.
Whenever we are exposed to environmental pollution, drink alcohol, smoke, exercise, are exposed to the sun, or take certain drugs, our bodies produce molecules called free radicals. These are unstable molecules that carry a negative electrical charge in the form of a spare electron.
They try to rid themselves of this unwanted molecular ‘baggage’ by colliding with other molecules or they try to steal a positive charge from other molecules to neutralize their spare negative electron. This chemical offloading and stealing is known as oxidation. An excess of these free radicals can start chain reactions that damage cells, proteins, fats, and genetic material in our bodies.
This damage has been linked to many health problems and diseases including hardening and furring up of the arteries, coronary heart disease, cataracts, arthritis, cancer, and premature aging of the skin.
An antioxidant is a protective substance that helps to neutralize this damaging oxidation. They work by mopping up the negative charges on free radicals before they can trigger a damaging chain reaction. Antioxidants are found in varying amounts in foods such as vegetables, fruits, grain cereals, eggs, meat, legumes, and nuts.
Although a normal diet high in antioxidants is good, experts agree that food alone cannot supply the optimum amounts needed to be effective – you would need to eat huge amounts of foods containing antioxidants for them to be effective and some antioxidants can be destroyed by storage and cooking.
Because the number of antioxidants in any one food type can vary so much, if you are serious about maintaining your health and warding off age-related disease, taking supplements is well worth considering.
There follows a list of known antioxidants you should try to incorporate into your diet. You will find supplements for most of these age-fighters at your local health food shop or drug store.
Vitamin A and Beta-Carotene
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble antioxidant that comes in two forms – retinol which is found in animal products like meat and milk, and carotenoids which come from fruits and vegetables. Both these forms are converted into vitamin A in the body.
The importance of vitamin A in skin health comes from its ability to treat severe forms of acne and psoriasis and repair sun damage and wrinkles. In recognition of this ability, the cosmetics industry has not been slow in including retinol in many anti-aging products.
Vitamin A is such a powerful antioxidant that several studies have suggested that dietary intake is important in reducing the risk of many cancers, including skin cancer. Dietary sources of vitamin A include halibut liver oil, liver, margarine, butter, cheese, and eggs.
If vitamin A supplements are used, they are best limited to no more than 1500 mcg a day although intakes of up to 3000 mcg are considered safe.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that cannot be produced in the human body and so has to be obtained from food and supplements on a daily basis. It plays an important role in the health and appearance of the skin because it promotes and maintains the production of elastin and collagen. Elastin and collagen fibers form up to seventy percent of the skin’s structure and help to keep it smooth and supple.
Excessive exposure to sunlight produces free radicals that damage the skin’s structure and cause wrinkles, dryness, thickening, discoloration, and ‘photo-aging. Vitamin C has been shown to protect against damage caused by UV exposure by neutralizing these free radicals and promoting the production of new collagen.
The best food sources for vitamin C are acerola cherry juice, camu pulp, rosehip syrup, blackcurrants, guavas, parsley, and kale.
A good basic amount of vitamin C per day is 100-250 mg, however, research suggests that a higher intake of between 1000-3000 mg per day is preferable for optimum health. Such a large amount cannot normally be obtained from food alone, therefore a supplement is recommended for best results.
Vitamin E is the collective name for a set of eight related tocopherols and tocotrienols, which are fat-soluble vitamins with antioxidant properties. Vitamin E is a preservative and protects the body’s fats and cell membranes from free radical damage.
As far as skin health is concerned, vitamin E improves skin suppleness and its ability to heal, hence is present in many skin creams, both as a preservative for the cream’s ingredients and for its benefits to the skin.
Dietary sources of vitamin E include wheat germ oil, soybean oil, maize oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and peanut oil. A normal daily dosage of vitamin E is 10-1000 mg a day. High intakes of more than 3000 mg a day can be toxic.
Selenium is an essential trace mineral needed for normal cell growth, hormone production, and a healthy immune system. An adequate intake of selenium has been shown to protect against many diseases such as cancer, arthritis, heart attack, infertility, stroke, and emphysema.
In skin health, selenium, like vitamin A and E, has been shown to protect the skin against the damaging effects of UV radiation. A lack of this mineral has also been linked with psoriasis, age spots, and wrinkling of the skin.
Good sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, whole grains, mushrooms, onions, garlic, and broccoli. The suggested daily intake of Selenium is 100-200 mcg a day.
Vitamin B2 plays an important role in the body’s processing of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. It also plays a part in the production of hormones and red blood cells as well as helping to keep the skin, hair, and eyes healthy. A lack in the diet can lead to a skin rash similar to eczema on the face and nose.
Riboflavin helps to protect the eye lens from attack by free radicals. In a study, subjects taking a B2 supplement nearly halved their risk of developing cataracts than those who did not take them.
Vitamin B2 is a water-soluble vitamin that cannot be stored in the body, therefore a regular intake from the diet or supplement is essential for health. Good food sources include yeast extract, whole grains, eggs, dairy products, green leafy vegetables, pulses, wheat bran, and soy flour;
Normal daily requirements are 1.6 mg per day but physically active people and those with a specific deficiency problem can take between 200-400 mg daily.
Although not an antioxidant itself, the presence of copper in the body is vital for the actions of other enzymes and vitamins involved in antioxidant activity. It is essential for the function of enzymes involved in antioxidant protection and helps with vitamin C absorption and the production of collagen, a structural protein that supports the skin and keeps it supple and healthy.
Good dietary sources of copper include, brewer’s yeast, olives, nuts, pulses, cereals, wholemeal bread and dried fruit.
Despite many dietary sources, in general, around 50% of people get less than the recommended 0.8-3 mg recommended daily intake, therefore taking a supplement may be of benefit.
Manganese is an antioxidant mineral that, along with vitamin C, is essential for the production of collagen, the substance that supports your skin and keeps it supple and healthy. Deficiency symptoms include scaly skin and poor growth of hair.
Good dietary sources include cereals, wholemeal bread, nuts, pulses, fruit, green leafy vegetables, and black tea.
We lose manganese from the body every time we have a bowel motion, therefore a daily intake of up to 5 mg is recommended.
An adequate intake of zinc is vital for sexual health in men both in terms of fertility and the health of the prostate gland but when looking particularly at skin health, we find that a lack of zinc in the diet can lead to eczema, psoriasis, acne and poor hair and nail growth.
Good dietary sources of zinc include brewer’s yeast, hard cheese, wholemeal bread, eggs, pulses, wholegrain cereals, rice, green leafy vegetables, and potatoes.
As with all the antioxidants mentioned in this book, obtaining enough to be therapeutic (15-30 mg a day) can be difficult from the diet alone and therefore supplementation may be beneficial.
Please note that doses of more than 30 mg daily should not be taken except under medical supervision or the advice of a dietitian.
Green and black tea both come from the camellia sinesis shrub but green tea contains higher levels of an antioxidant known as a bioflavonoid.
Flavonoids are known to be far stronger antioxidants than either vitamin C or vitamin E and prevent cholesterol from blocking up the arteries.
People who regularly drink green tea have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.
They are also thought to prevent several types of cancer due to the presence of epigallocatechin gallate – a powerful anti-cancer compound.
Of particular interest is green tea’s ability to protect against premature aging, a fact seized by cosmetic manufacturers who now include extracts in a wide variety of skin creams and lotions.
Drinking four cups of green tea daily is recommended but if you dislike the taste, it can also be taken as a supplement.
Also known as ubiquinone, co-enzyme Q10 is a vitamin-like substance that works with vitamin E to form an antioxidant that protects against the hardening and furring up of the arteries and reduces the risk of heart disease.
Co-enzyme Q10 is present in all the body’s cells where it is needed to generate energy from food and protects cells from disease and damage.
Cosmetics manufacturers have recognized its protective properties and added Q10 to skincare products to help reduce and prevent premature wrinkles and damage from sunlight.
A good dietary source of Q10 is yeast but for the optimal daily dose of 10-100 mg (300-600 mg for the treatment of specific illnesses) a supplement is recommended.
Pine Bark Extract
This extract comes from the bark of the French maritime pine tree. It contains proanthocyanidins – strong antioxidants that play a role in the stabilization of collagen and maintenance of elastin — proteins in connective tissue that support organs, joints, blood vessels, muscle, and skin.
Proanthocyanidins antioxidants are 20 times more powerful than vitamin C and 50 times more potent than vitamin E and help strengthen all the blood vessels and improve the delivery of oxygen to the cells.
This extract also enhances the effectiveness of these vitamins and coenzyme Q10 to create a powerful protective cocktail that reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, improves circulation, and strengthens blood vessels.
Its ability to thin the blood and prevent clotting makes it a good alternative to aspirin that can be taken prior to any long-haul economy class flight to help reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis. You can take 50-200 mg a day.
Cat’s Claw is a vine native to South America where indigenous people have used the plant for medicinal purposes for over two thousand years. It gets its name from hook-like thorns that resemble the claws of a cat. It contains potent antioxidants that protect against damage caused by sun exposure and smoking.
The alkaloids found in this plant have also been shown to be effective in the treatment of a wide range of ailments including Crohn’s disease, gastric ulcers and tumors, parasites, colitis, gastritis, arthritis, rheumatism, diabetes, PMS, chronic fatigue syndrome, HIV, Alzheimer’s disease, prostate conditions and in the treatment of AIDS in combination with AZT.
Loss of memory and an increase in the experience of cold hands and feet are often seen as a sign of aging, but your circulation can be kept as healthy and efficient as possible, both through moderate regular exercise and by taking herbs known to boost blood transmission to the brain, hands, feet, and genitals.
The extract of ginkgo biloba contains unique chemicals called gingkolides and bilobalides, that not only offer protection against oxidative cell damage from free radicals but are also known to relax blood vessels and increase blood flow to the hands and feet.
It also helps blood flow to the genitals, where it acts to strengthen and maintain an erection. In a study, half the participating males with erectile dysfunction enjoyed a return to full potency after six months of taking ginkgo. As well as boosting blood flow to the brain to improve memory, clinical trials have shown.
Ginkgo can also be ineffective in treating other age-related problems such as dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Taking a minimum of 120 mg of ginkgo a day should be enough to notice benefits although these may not be noticeable until ten days to 12 weeks after use.
The bilberry comes from a small shrub found in Europe, Asia, and North America. The dark purple fruit is smaller than that of the blueberry but with a fuller taste.
Bilberries contain anthocyanins, tannins, and flavonoid glycosides – antioxidants that have been shown to combat many age-related eye disorders such as macular degeneration, cataracts, night blindness, and glaucoma.
The antioxidants in bilberry protect light-sensitive cells found in the eye and improve blood flow to the retina. Users have reported an improvement in their eyesight after only 15 days of use.
In one study, participants who had cataracts were given a combination of bilberry and Vitamin E. In all but three percent of cases, the deterioration in their eyesight was halted.
If you want to eat the fresh fruit, 20-60 grams a day is recommended, alternatively, 80-160 mg of dry extract up to three times a day can be taken.
Red Grapeseed Extract
Red grape seed extract contains powerful antioxidants called proanthocyanidins that have been shown to treat heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. This is because they protect the blood vessels from free radical damage, thin the blood and reduce the hardening and furring up of the arteries.
Because of its positive effect on circulation, other diseases associated with poor blood flow such as diabetes, impotence, varicose veins, macular degeneration, and thread veins can also be improved with this extract.
Grape seed extract may have other possible anti-disease properties, including accelerated wound healing, the reduction of skin cancer tumors, and protection from ultraviolet light damage to the skin.
Olive oil is an oil obtained from the olive tree olea europaea, a traditional tree of the Mediterranean area, and has been in use by man since 2,500 BCE. Today it is commonly used in cooking, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and soaps. Olive oil contains potent antioxidants not found in other vegetable oils that give extra-virgin unprocessed olive oil its bitter and pungent taste.
Hydroxytyrosol is thought to be the main antioxidant in olives and plays a significant role in the many health benefits attributed to this oil, including a protective effect against certain malignant tumors in the breast, prostate, and digestive tract. Olive oil is considerably rich in a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid. Studies suggest that a higher proportion of monounsaturated fats in the diet is linked with a reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease.
To achieve this possible benefit, olive oil should replace a similar amount of saturated fat found in meat and dairy products and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day. There is a large body of clinical data to show that consumption of olive oil can also have favourable effects on cholesterol regulation because it controls the ‘bad’ levels of LDL cholesterol and raises levels of the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.
In addition to the internal health benefits of olive oil, extra virgin olive oil has been known for generations, not only for its healing qualities but also as a natural, deep penetration moisturizer with a reputation for regenerating and softening the skin. Studies on mice showed that the application of olive oil immediately following exposure to UVB rays has a preventive effect on the formation of tumors and skin cancer.