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Fighting the signs of ageing – what you should do

Free radicals and antioxidants are two terms that we often hear. Free radicals are bad for us and antioxidants are good for us. But, have you ever wondered what exactly free radicals and antioxidants are? This article explains the two terms in layman's language.

Free radical, you have in all probability heard the term and know that they can cause a lot of damage to the body. But then, do you know what free radical damage is? If you were to explain the term to someone would you know how to do it? Most people can perhaps understand that free radicals are bad, but have no inkling of the kind of damage they can cause. Did you know that free radicals do not have a vital molecule, which is what makes them dangerous? Since they are missing this important molecule they attack other healthy cells, in the bid to restore the one that they are missing. In the bargain, they cause immense damage to the healthy cells, which is at times irreversible. Free radical damage is not restricted to any specific part of the body; they are equally harmful to internal and external organs.

Free radical damage is similar to oxidation. Have you ever seen apples or bananas or pears or aubergines being sliced and how easily and quickly they begin to discolour and turn brown? This discolouration is due to oxidisation. It happens because exposed cells of the fruit come in direct contact with oxygen, setting a reaction.

Similar degradation takes place within our body in reaction to different elements. The human body, and in this case the skin, reacts adversely when it is exposed to sunlight, pollution, smoking and toxins in the atmosphere and can even react adversely to what we eat. All these factors combined together accelerate skin damage and activate more free radicals, which causes more skin damage.

Free radicals and their effects on skin

The damage to the skin can be blamed on free radicals, as they reduce the amount of collagen and elastin in the skin. Free radicals attack collagen and elastin fibres, resulting in them shrinking in size. Remember, it is collagen and elastin that gives the skin a soft, smooth and glowing appearance. There is some useful information in this piece about How to look younger? Eat to look younger that covers various aspects of ageing and simple solutions to fight it. The loss of collagen causes the skin to lose its youthful glow; the skin develops fine lines and wrinkles, gets patchy and dry and begins to look old. Over a period of time, it loses it firmness and begins to sag.

Dark spots and hyperpigmentation become common as we age. These are due to the free radicals – this commonly happens due to excessive exposure to the sun and biological factors, namely age. Free radicals gradually destroy the body's ability to produce new skin cells. This makes the skin appear noticeably older as there are no new, firm, plump, cells to replace the old withered ones. A pattern sets in, with more and more cells getting affected leading to the skin appearing visibly old.

Is there a solution to ageing

As awful as free radicals and all the elements that impede skin rejuvenation appear to be, there is a way to dodge them and defend ourselves. Antioxidants have anti-aging properties that reduce the damage triggered by free radicals and also help to keep cells healthy. Antioxidants exist in our body and are also available in some of the foods that we eat. Foods have varying quantities of antioxidants; some may have more than others. Hence, the most obvious solution to improving antioxidant intake is to eat foods that are rich in them.

What are antioxidants

Antioxidants are nothing but a mixture of minerals, vitamins and different compounds naturally present in food. Antioxidants are identified and grouped based on the combinations of different nutrients.
Flavonoids are the largest group of antioxidants. Flavonoids are nothing but phytochemicals that provide vegetables and fruits their taste and colour. Foods rich in flavonoids are easily identifiable based on colour. Foods that fall in the orange-red-blue-purple colour spectrum encompass the most antioxidants.

Antioxidant rich fruits

There is a wide range of fruits that boost our antioxidant intake –
  • Oranges
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Raisins
  • Plums
  • Cherries
  • Cranberries
  • Melons
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Apricorts
  • Apples

Antioxidant rich vegetables

Vegetables to contain high doses of antioxidants –
  • Spinach
  • Beans
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Brinjals
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Carrots
  • Squash
  • Brocolli
  • Cabbage

Antioxidants in nuts & seeds

Antioxidants are found in abundance in nuts & seeds as well -
  • Walnuts
  • Pecans
  • Almonds
  • Pistachios
  • Watermelon seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Fenugreek seeds
  • Sesame seeds

Although, most foods in their natural form are quite rich in antioxidants, yet it is common to find deficiencies in the human body. An important factor that needs to be understood is that not all compounds present in foods are easily digested and absorbed. There are many compounds that the body can absorb only in the presence of certain enzymes. If X is present and Y is missing, the body will not absorb X. This is why it is essential to eat an assortment of foods. Every natural food item is composed of its own unique blend of nutrients and when a huge variety of foods make up a diet the body receives a mix of healthy, essential nutrients, which could be missing if the diet is missing variety. The more wholesome foods you put on your plate the more you improve your nutrient intake.

Antioxidants that are really marvellous

Antioxidants are not all equal, some are better than the others. There is the antioxidant called resveratrol, for instance, that has remarkable anti-ageing properties. The antioxidant is found in abundance in foods such as grapes, cranberries, dark chocolate, cocoa, grapes and even wine (both red and white).
It is a remarkable antioxidant because research shows that it can counterbalance the dangers of Alzheimer's obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Then there is ellagic acid that is found in pomegranates, cranberries, walnuts and pecan nuts. The acid is known to improve the skin's natural defences against sun damage. Just a handful of nuts or a half a cup of fruits can provide sufficient ellagic acid to act as a defence.

Tomatoes are a rich source of flavonoids, especially lycopene. Though tomatoes can be eaten raw, in salads, it is best to eat them cooked. Cooking improves the nutrient quotient of tomatoes as it makes the absorption of lycopene easier. This is the reason why tomato ketchup is considered richer in nutrients than raw tomatoes.

Article by Juana
Juana is a freelance writer, with years of experience, creating content for varied online portals. She holds a degree in English Literature and has worked as a teacher and as a soft skill trainer. An avid reader, she writes on a variety of topics ranging from health, travel, education and personality development.

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