Updated: Oct 1, 2021
I get asked this often. The word antioxidant is used often and we all kind of know what it is and we kind of know they're good for us but not many of us actually know what they are or why they're so important to our health.
The natural processes of the body, such a s digestion or the body fighting off illness can cause free radicals. Free radicals are an atom, molecule or ion that has lost an electron, they are highly chemically reactive towards other substances, or even toward themselves. These atoms, molecules or ions go in search of electrons to make themselves "whole" again. They move around the body stealing electrons from other, healthy, whole, atoms, molecules or ions. In general, free radicals aren't dangerous. It's when there is an over abundance of them when the trouble happens.
When our cells are exposed to pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke, too much processed or fried foods, or certain chemicals, this process creates a larger quantity of free radicals that go in search of electrons. If there are no electrons available, or if free radical production is in excess, damage occurs and creates and environment of oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress can cause damage to fatty tissue, DNA, and proteins in the body. Proteins, lipids, and DNA make up a large part of your body, so that damage can lead to a number of illnesses over time, such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, inflammatory conditions, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s), and cancer. Oxidative stress also contributes to aging. It breaks down the collagen and elastin in our skin causing wrinkles and the lose of skin tone.
Enter antioxidants. They neutralize free radicals by supplying them with their missing electron, hopefully before they cause the above mentioned illnesses. Antioxidants are nutrients found in our food and the beneficial oils we use in our skincare products. Some antioxidants are the phytochemicals that give foods their color or natural protection. Common antioxidants are vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and selenium.
Every food on the WebMD list of the foods with the highest antioxidant capacity are healthy and colorful beans, fruits, berries. Oils we use in our skincare with the high antioxidant capacity are also from fruits, vegetables and berries: carrot, cranberry seed, cucumber seed, grape seed, pomegranate, red raspberry seed and tomato seed. They also come from seeds and nuts: hazelnut, chia seed and macadamia, as well as camellia from green tea and wheat germ from grain.