If you've ever been to the beach, gone for a jog on a summer day, or roasted in front of an oven, chances are you've experienced free radicals. They're harmful by-products of cell metabolism that can be found in our environment, food, and drink.
What are Free Radicals?
Free radicals are molecules with at least one unpaired electron. This unpaired electron makes them highly reactive, so they react readily with other molecules in cells. In turn, it can cause oxidative damage to DNA and other biomolecules such as proteins or lipids. This damaging effect on the cells can further lead to the formation of tumors. Free radicals are also responsible for skin aging and contribute to acute and chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, cataracts, and macular degeneration.
Types of Free Radicals
1. Oxygen-centered radicals. Oxygen-centered radical is a molecule which has one unpaired electron tied to an oxygen atom.
2. Hydrogen-centered radicals. Hydrogen-centered radicals are molecules with one unpaired electron bound to a hydrogen atom (where the hydrogen is covalently bonded).
3. Nitric oxide (NO) -centered radicals. Hydrogen-centered radical with an added molecule of NO called nitrate which is derived from nitric oxide (NO) oxidizing a hydrogen-oxygen bond in a molecule.
4. Carbon-centered radicals. Carbon-centered radicals are molecules with one unpaired electron bound to a carbon atom.
Where do Free Radicals Come From?
These rogue molecules can come from several sources:
• Smoking, charred meat, and other high-temperature cooking methods are also thought to produce free radicals.
• Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun is a significant source of free radicals. Exposure to the sun makes us more susceptible to skin cancer, photo-aging, immunosuppression, and cataracts.
• Certain chemicals such as catecholamine, thymine, hydroxytyrosol, beta-phenylethylamine, and 4-hydroxy-3-methoxy phenethylamine form free radicals in the body.
• Air pollution and heavy metals-they bind to cell components and can cause damage.
Free Radicals and Your Skin
Free radicals cause oxidative damage to skin cells, causing many signs of aging such as fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation. They also contribute to certain skin diseases like atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and acne. They are thought to disrupt cellular DNA repair or destroy healthy lipid membranes in the skin, contributing to inflammation that may lead to cell death. Free radicals may also cause oxidative stress and cancer.
How Do you Prevent Free Radicals?
Treating and preventing damage caused by free radicals begins with diet. A diet rich in phytochemicals found in fruits, vegetables, beans, and tea is the best way to combat free radicals. Be sure to include colorful fruits and vegetables such as berries, red grapes, tomatoes, blueberries, citrus fruits, and red peppers.
Antioxidants are known to prevent or slow down the oxidative process that can damage cells. Natural antioxidants are found in certain fruits and vegetables, particularly antioxidant-rich fruits like berries and red peppers. Antioxidants such as vitamin E, beta-carotene, flavonoids, flavanones, and lignans are also thought to protect the body from free radicals. Antioxidants are also found in vitamin C, E, coenzyme Q10, selenium, and alpha lipoic acid supplements.
Wearing sunscreen is also essential, as the sun is a significant source of free radicals.
Additionally, look for broad-spectrum sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Avoid oxybenzone or octinoxate since endocrine disruptors may cause developmental or reproductive damage. Be sure to use a broad spectrum SPF, even on cloudy days, and remember to reapply every two hours.
Avoiding free radicals is not always easy. However, it can be done by following a healthy, balanced diet, using antioxidants in supplements or foods, and avoiding excessive sun exposure. So don't let free radicals get the best of you; armed with this knowledge, you can protect your skin for years to come.