Medically Reviewed By Elizabeth A. Swick, MS, RDN
Why Free Radicals Are Bad News For Your Health (And How to Fight Back)
Free radicals. Just the sound of them may activate your protective instincts, sending you reaching for known antioxidants found in foods such as red wine, dark chocolate and pomegranates.
You’ve been trained to be fearful of them, and for good reason – free radicals are synonymous with advanced aging of the skin and are known to run interference on cardiovascular health and brain function. And they’re key contributors to inflammation, the root cause of many health and age-related afflictions.
How free radicals form
Free radicals are volatile, co-dependent atoms that seek to bond with and destroy healthy atoms by causing a fiery reaction called oxidation. It’s why they earned the name reactive oxygen species (ROS).
They form as a result of external forces, such as environmental pollutants and chemical toxins, as well as internally when your body takes care of routine matters, including cell division, DNA repair and even respiratory function.
That’s right – breathing creates free radicals!
Just as fruit starts to brown (or oxidize) when cut, the trillions of cells in your body that breath health, life and energy into you have to battle oxidative stress caused by these energy-stealing vultures.
If your natural defenses can’t keep up, the buildup can lead to premature aging, which presents through a whole host of issues that include wrinkles, thinning hair, high cholesterol, cognitive decline and inflammatory and autoimmune conditions.***
Antioxidants help your body fight back
Nature has gifted us with powerful substances numbering in the thousands that knock-out cellular oxidation and help turn the tide on damage done to cells.
A few well-studied groups of antioxidants include flavonoids, polyphenols and catechins found in various fruits, vegetables and plant species, and each one bears its own set of characteristics. While these free radical fighters are typically associated with plants, antioxidants can also be manmade, and some are produced within your own body.
The “master antioxidant” inside you
Because free radicals can be by-products of normal cellular functions, your body is equipped to reset the balance of power by creating a very mighty antioxidant: glutathione.
Glutathione is the toxin-trapping mother of all free radical fighters. Your cells produce it to counter oxidation and inflammation throughout, especially in the lungs – your body’s natural filtration system. Pollution and pesticides are everyday health threats… and your lungs are on the front lines against them.
Also, traces of chemicals consumed and absorbed from processed food, everyday products and household items can threatening to overburden your cells.
Glutathione helps eliminate trapped toxins before they can cause irreparable harm, but production dwindles with age. To boost levels of your master antioxidant, supplement with N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). NAC is the supplement form of the amino acid, cysteine, which is vital for replenishing glutathione. It also supports optimal detox function of the lungs and liver.**
In addition to supporting the health of your respiratory system, glutathione also protects your brain from oxidation, which is vital for staying bright and alert as you age.* Studies show its neuroprotective qualities are enhanced when combined with another potent antioxidant, vitamin D.*
Known as the “sunshine vitamin”, vitamin D is actually a steroid hormone that kidneys produce to absorb calcium and promote immune health, among other benefits. As a fat-soluble nutrient, it’s concentrated in good fats such as oily fish, egg yolks and some in cheese, but through brief, direct exposure to sunlight, your body can synthesize vitamin D naturally.
Most vitamin D supplements are synthetic. For a plant-derived vitamin D alternative, try this Vitamin D + K2.
Fruit antioxidants that work
In plants, antioxidants contribute to their color, smell and/or taste, protecting them from predators and the sun’s intense UV rays. While there are many plant-based antioxidants, there are two potent polyphenols that stand out.
Resveratrol is best known as the heart-healthy antioxidant in red wine and dark chocolate, though its most concentrated in the stems, skins and seeds of the plants that contain them. And it has so much more to offer than cardiovascular benefits, including helping to protect cognition and memory as you age.
Resveratrol is also skin’s best friend, because it has been shown to counter the effects of photoaging and support collagen production to boost firmness and reduce wrinkle formation.* Find this powerful combination of resveratrol and collagen here.
Mix it up for best health!
By consuming a rainbow of nutritious fruits and vegetables, and boosting with a high-potency antioxidant supplement, you can neutralize free radical threats and support the healthy function of your cells.