We hear and read a lot written about antioxidants, but what exactly is the role of antioxidants in health and beauty? We have touched upon this subject in our description of why vitamin E is in our product, but here we will take a bit of a deeper dive into this story.
Let’s take a look at the word “antioxidant”. The first part, “anti” is defined as “opposed to or against”. The second part, “oxidant” is “a reactant that oxidizes or removes electrons from other reactants during a redox reaction”. Putting it all together we get a substance (let’s call it Reactant A) that opposes another substance (Reactant B) that oxidizes or removes electrons from other reactants (Reactant C). So what are these reactants A, B and C? Let’s start with C as it is easier to explain. Reactant C are basically the molecules that make up the healthy cells in your body. Proteins, enzymes and DNA are examples. Reactant B are substances you may have read about called “reactive oxide species” usually abbreviated ROS. They are a subset of “free radicals” that refer to any stable molecular species containing unpaired electrons in atomic orbitals. But because these free radicals contain unpaired electrons, they are not happy about their existence and seek to find another electron to pair with the one that remains single. They attempt to achieve this by swiping electrons from other molecules in our body. This makes them quite “reactive”. ROS are simply free radical molecules in which oxygen is present. And finally, Reactant A are the antioxidants, which “oppose” the effects of the ROS by either breaking them down into harmless molecules, or by pre-emptively supplying the electrons they crave before they rob our healthy cells of them.
Now ROS are not totally bad. In fact, our body needs them for normal and healthy biological functions and our bodies use those “antioxidants” we discussed to keep the ROS numbers in check. However, our typical lifestyles do not make it easy for the antioxidants. The skin is our largest organ and a place where ample ROS generation can take place through external sources such as the ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, pollutants, cigarette smoke, drugs and pesticides and ozone just to name a few. The food and beverages we drink can also affect ROS production. Examples include high fat and high carbohydrate diets, as well as alcohol.
When the scales are tipped towards high ROS circulating throughout our bodies, we are in a state of “oxidative stress”. This can lead to many chronic conditions such as cancer, inflammatory, neurological and vascular diseases, organ failure, diabetes, infertility and of course, aging.
So what can we do to prevent this, especially when it is so hard to escape all these external factors driving our body to a state of oxidative stress? As always, a good place to start is to maintain a healthy diet with ample levels of antioxidants. But what is “ample”? There is no recommended daily allowances like there are for other nutrients. However, the US National Institute of Ageing (part of the National Institutes for Health) developed a means of testing foods to rank them based on their antioxidant capacities. The result was the ORAC unit (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity), or ORAC scores, available for a wide variety of foods from the US Department of Agriculture. Scientists believe that an optimal amount is between 3000-5000 ORAC units per day, but also advise there is no added benefit in increasing that amount as the quantity of antioxidants that can be circulated via our blood circulation system is tightly regulated and excesses will simply be eliminated by our kidneys. To put this into some type of context, a raw Granny Smith apple has an ORAC score of 3898, so maybe there is something to that old adage that “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. However, if your busy day dictates that your diet is not as good as it could be and you are not confident you can change this on a permanent basis, then supplementation may help. Our product contains antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, L-methionine and silica from bamboo extract.
If we focus a bit more on the health of our skin, the first place to start is to reduce the damaging effect of the sun’s UV rays that are so effective at producing ROS. So if you are outside for an extended period of time in bright sunny weather, always wear a sunscreen. Just make sure it consists of safe ingredients. Otherwise, the ROS generated can deplete the collagen content of your skin, resulting in the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines and dark patchy spots. But they don’t necessarily stop there. ROS can also damage the DNA in your skin cells, and if this is not repaired, this mutated DNA can replicate and lead to forms of skin cancer. And these ROS can affect your hair in a similar fashion by inflicting damage to hair follicles, resulting in a degradation in the quality of hair emerging from the follicle and to premature hair loss.
Take away message
So what is the role of antioxidants in health and beauty? They turn out to be extremely important in our body’s campaign against the damaging effects of free radical molecules such as ROS which are constantly hunting to steal electrons from otherwise healthy cells, leaving them damaged and in need of repair. And this damage could be to DNA. If this mutated DNA replicates and replicates, cancer could be the end result. But the heroes of this story are the antioxidants, which fight against these free radicals by either causing them to decompose into harmless molecules, or by providing the electrons that they crave. But as our bodies age, our natural production of antioxidants decreases, while the cumulative effect of our environment increases ROS production in our body. The scales are tipped in favour of ROS as we get older. To restore the balance of power, it is important to maintain a healthy diet that incorporates foods that deliver antioxidants (think fruits high in vitamin C) or supplementation.