Harsh and extreme conditions of icy cold temperatures, brutal winds, less sun and grizzly grey skies make winter a very fragile time of year. The doom and gloom of the season comes from catching and flighting off cold and flu viruses, hibernation, the mental blues, and skin that feels uncomfortably dry – to name a few.
The chilly season is also a time where we generally consume unhealthier foods to keep warm and comforted. Ironic, this is, because it’s a time of year when we actually need to consume the healthiest dietary components to make our bodies strong!
One such component that is essential to our health and wellbeing is exposure to “antioxidants’. Most of us hear this buzz word regularly, but may not understand what they are, how they work and why they are essential to Increasing the body’s natural defences.
Before we explore the concept and mechanisms of antioxidants, it’s important to understand their nemesis, the nasty ‘free-radical’ molecule. Let’s revisit the basics of chemistry to clearly understand it all!
Free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage cells, causing illness and aging. These molecules are unstable due to having an unbalanced number of electrons. They are toxic to normal stable cells because they attack them, stealing one of their electrons. So, good cells are left permanently injured.
Think of it like this: free radicals are robbers lacking in energy.
They steal energy from other healthy cells. The damage is like a domino effect.
Free radical production is a normal part of life- they come from everywhere (both inside and outside of the body) and there is no avoiding them – in fact, we need a certain amount to fight off various diseases in the body.
The problem arises when there is an excess accumulation of them. The biggest internal creator of free radicals is stress.
Lifestyle and environmental sources include pollution, UV rays and cigarettes, junk food and alcohol to name a few.
The greater the amount of free radical exposure, the greater and the faster the damage. Damage occurs first on a cellular functional level to eventually effect the precious DNA encased within the centre of the cell.Clusters of damaged cells build up causing more serious risks.
Also, As the body ages, it loses its ability to fight the damaging effects of free radicals. The result is more free radicals, more oxidative stress, and more damage to cells. This leads to degenerative processes, including a host of diseases and various symptoms of aging, such as wrinkles and grey hair.
So, where to from here?
Luckily mother nature has taken care of much of it with the ‘good fighters’ – Antioxidants. You just need to incorporate more of them into your day…
Antioxidants are stable oxygen molecules naturally designed to neutralise free radicals.
They are abundant in electrons and so are the generous ‘givers’ of them: they donate a spare electron to the free radical to stabilise and prevent cellular damage. So, it makes sense that you need a continuous amount of them to take care of their enemy’s destruction.
Additionally, due to their generosity, they expire – think of apple going brown (oxidising) – so that’s another important reason to frequently replenish them!
Associated with good health, antioxidants can help…
Antioxidants mostly come from natural food sources – winter fruits and veggies are jam packed with them.Many plant sources also contain antioxidant protection. Some vitamins and minerals themselves also serve as sources of antioxidants (Vitamin C and E and flavonoids are some of the most well-known ones.)
The body produces some of its own antioxidants, but we need to ingest more to balance out our excess free radical exposure. Indeed, a heavily-based plant diet indicates the best protection from free radical damage.
It’s just as well Mother Nature has made it super easy for us to find antioxidant rich foods – just look at the fruits and veggies that are bright in colour.
In fact, the brighter the colour, the richer the source of antioxidants (I.e Berries). Most of the ‘Superfoods’ are an excellent choice, like Acai berries. Here is a list of other popular foods/ingredients that also contain a rich source of antioxidants: Green Tea, Grapeseed, Kadadu Plum, Honey, Tomatoes, Sea Grapes and Pomegranate just to name a few.
You will also find antioxidants in a variety of skin health supplements and topical products. The accurate saying, “you are what you eat” is so very true.
The majority of the antioxidants you ingest go directly to the body’s most important organs that keep us alive.
Only a small percentage of ingested antioxidants will find their way to the skin. So, by applying antioxidants topically they reach the skin cells directly. It’s great to know that the ones we ingest, are usually the best ones to find in our skincare products.
So, now we understand the world of antioxidants and why they are important to ingest and also apply topically. They are the ultimate selfless skin saviour volunteers!
Oh, and one last thing…another great way to top up your supply of antioxidants is dark chocolate. Now you can eat it all you like, guilt-free!