In the Charles Dickens novel “Oliver Twist,” we meet a young orphan named Jack Dawkins, better known as the Artful Dodger. Living on the busy streets of 19th-century London, with charm and guile, he survives by pickpocketing, relying on his wits in an unforgiving world.
Within our bodies lies a similar bustling metropolis, where a delicate balance between antioxidants (the good) and free radicals (the mischievous) is continuously maintained.
What are free radicals?
A free radical is a molecule that’s lost an electron, and in their quest to regain stability, these little molecular pickpockets steal electrons from other molecules and, just like the boyish charm of our Artful Dodger, their unscrupulous behaviour influences other molecules, causing a chain reaction of cellular disarray known as oxidative stress leading to damaged, dysfunctional cells.
In our everyday lives, we partake in activities that switch on free radicals within our body, and despite the name, which might imply a somewhat free-wheeling radical type, living by their own rules, free radicals are a normal part of life. When kept in balance, they maintain the body’s natural functions, like immunity and cell communication, to support our health.
However, when free radicals are triggered by external forces, they can turn rogue and get about wreaking havoc, much like the Artful Dodger, stealthily undetected in a room full of gentlemen intent on coming between them and their cashed-up pocketbooks.
What are the triggers of free radical activity?
The imbalance of free radicals that leads to oxidative stress is caused largely by external forces, such as exposure to UV radiation, environmental pollutants, tobacco smoke, alcohol consumption, stress and an unhealthy diet; all individually and en masse trigger free radicals more than the body can normally cope, couple this with an inadequate intake of antioxidants from the foods you eat and you have the perfect storm for oxidative stress.
The impact of oxidative stress on ageing.
Oxidative stress transcends mere cellular wear and tear; it’s deeply entwined with the ageing process, influencing not just our physical appearance but also the health of our organs and systems. Beyond the visible signs of ageing, oxidative stress is linked to several diseases, including cardiovascular disease and dementia, as well as diabetes and certain cancers.
Studies have shown that as we age, we’re more prone to oxidative stress as our body’s weakened defences battle to keep up.
By managing oxidative stress, we’re not merely combating today’s free radicals but investing in sustained health and longevity, aiming to preserve our well-being at every life stage.
What are the visible signs of oxidative stress?
Skin ageing: Oxidative stress accelerates skin ageing, evident in wrinkles, fine lines, dehydration and age spots and sun damage. These signs are the skin’s response to cumulative damage from UV exposure and other environmental factors.
Skin disorders: Oxidative stress can exacerbate skin conditions such as dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis, leading to increased inflammation, itching, and visible skin changes like dry patches or scaly plaques.
Premature grey hair: The impact of oxidative stress extends to hair health, contributing to premature greying by impairing the melanocytes in hair follicles responsible for pigment production.
Enter antioxidants: The quiet benefactors.
Much like the kind-hearted strangers who rescued Oliver Twist from a precarious life on the streets alongside the Artful Dodger, our bodies are equipped with antioxidants, our cellular guardians, that strike a peaceful balance against free radicals to neutralise them to protect our health and ensure cellular equilibrium.
Through chance encounters, antioxidants donate electrons to neutralise the activities of free radicals, preventing the would-be thieves from causing oxidative chaos and safeguarding our cells before too much damage is done. The silent but significant act of giving, fueled by an antioxidant-rich diet, ensures our internal world remains balanced.
Recognising the presence of these molecular pickpockets and countering them with a diet abundant in antioxidants is key to preserving our health, appearance, and overall well-being.
Particularly for our skin, antioxidants are indispensable, playing a pivotal role in keeping it vibrant and youthful. By bolstering our defences with these powerful compounds, we ensure that our internal well-being is mirrored externally, maintaining skin resilience and health.
Antioxidants help protect the cells that promote the natural production of collagen and elastin, key proteins that maintain the skin’s firmness and elasticity. This not only helps in delaying the signs of ageing but also supports the skin’s ability to repair itself, keeping our complexion radiant and robust.
A clever balancing act.
If we are to benefit from the charitable pursuits of antioxidants, then we should consider a two-pronged approach. First, minimise the free radicals being activated within the body, and second, increase the level of antioxidants in your diet.
Your choices play a critical role in reducing oxidative stress.
Minimising free radicals is your first line of defence. But of course, we must live. So, what can we do to minimise free radical activity?
We can actively manage specific lifestyle choices—such as consistently applying broad-spectrum sunscreen, avoiding smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, and prioritising nutrient-dense whole foods over processed options.
The foods we eat.
Eating antioxidant-rich foods acts as an internal shield, fortifying the skin’s defences from within. Think of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains as your dietary allies, offering a spectrum of antioxidants like beta-carotene, lycopene, and vitamins C and E. This isn’t just a quick fix but a long-term strategy for radiant skin and overall vitality, enhancing your skin’s resilience against the daily challenges it faces in our ever-active world
A diet abundant antioxidants is akin to recruiting a greater number of charitable donations to those in need in our bustling city—each nutrient-rich food contributes its share of antioxidants to the cause to reduce the risk of oxidative stress and restore balance.
A daily application of antioxidants in a serum or cream will provide targeting protection to the skin to help mitigate the immediate effects of UV radiation, which can cause DNA damage, accelerate skin ageing, and increase the risk of skin cancer.
Popular skincare ingredients like green tea, niacinamide (vit B3) and the vitamins C, E, work synergistically with ferulic acid and are renowned for their potent antioxidant properties. When used in conjunction with broad-spectrum sunscreen, these antioxidants enhance the protective barrier by neutralising UV-induced free radicals that penetrate beyond the shield of sunscreen.
If you’re buying an antioxidant serum, vitamin C is probably the best place to start. L-ascorbic acid is the natural form of vitamin C and despite numerous other variants, it’s what your skin recognises. But, it’s a water soluble vitamin, which means, it’s potency is limited. Skincare brands like Skinceuticals were the first to add ferulic acid to their formula, because it’s a powerful antioxidant in it’s own right, but also extends the stability of other antioxidants like l-ascorbic acid, and with the necessary pH of 3.5 makes it a popular choice, but it is by no means the only vitamin C antioxidant formula, there are hundreds, you just know what to look for.
Calling in for reinforcements.
Despite our best efforts, other factors, like exposure to airborne pollutants and managing stress, are more challenging, making the interplay between free radicals and antioxidants and the need for a balanced approach essential, and in our modern life, we might need to call for reinforcements.
Supplements can play a role, offering concentrated doses of antioxidants like vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, selenium, and, notably, glutathione—often called the master antioxidant.
Glutathione is unique because it supports recycling other antioxidants and directly neutralises free radicals.
Our body naturally produces glutathione, but its levels can be affected by our age and lifestyle factors such as stress, pollution, and diet.
To support your body’s glutathione levels through diet, focus on eating sulfur-rich foods such as garlic, onions, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and other related vegetables like leeks and chives.
All these foods contain precursors that help synthesise glutathione in the body.
By incorporating nutrient-rich foods into our diet and oral supplementation when necessary, we’re enhancing our antioxidant defences, which are crucial for maintaining health and longevity.
Coming back to the here and now.
Understanding the interplay between free radicals and antioxidants equips us with the knowledge to counteract these cellular thieves and seek out those antioxidant benefactors that support our health to avoid the cascade of oxidative stress.
There’s no need to let your free radicals go rogue. You can take charge and protect your well-being to ensure a healthy future. Take that, Jack Dawkins!
If you’re wondering if your antioxidant serum or creams are up for the task, you can ask me, all you need do is send me an email here.
See you next time,