For hundreds of years, people have searched for the proverbial Fountain of Youth. How can you stay young as you get older?
Many things have been tried and most of them involve plastic surgery or elixirs that leave a lot to be desired.
Getting older is a fact of life. How you age is up to you. Plastic surgery is the soup du jour for many people but it only works on the outside of your body.
While you can get a facelift or a tummy tuck to lift and flatten the exterior, your inner workings are still aging and sometimes at a faster rate than the outside.
As much as you care about the outside of your body, it is the inside that tells the tale. Older people are living longer and some younger folks are dying.
What gives? The answer could lie in how we treat our bodies inside and out. It is a package deal. Our bodies work as a whole machine.
There are reasons why our bodies’ age and how some people are truly growing older gracefully to the tune of 100 years or more. The tools to accomplish this have been in front of us all the time.
In this article you will learn about free radicals and how they affect our body. You will also discover that substances called antioxidants are charged with fighting the damage done by free radicals and turning back the biological clock to keep us healthy.
What are Free Radicals?
The name sounds like a group of people at a peace rally. But, these little chemical elements are less than peaceful. They affect the inner environment and change our bodies for the worst.
We have two ages for our bodies. Have you ever seen those shows that ask people to guess someone’s age? Their appearance reflects the way they have been treating their bodies and makes them seem older to others. This is the biological age of your body.
How old you really are is your chronological age. Certain activities that we participate in can make us look a lot older than our chronological age. Age is truly just a number in these cases.
Free radicals are responsible for how rapidly we age.
What are free radicals? They are by-products of cellular metabolism. On the smallest level, our cells replenish themselves and produce energy to run the processes of the body.
When this happens, certain molecules are left behind. These are called free radicals. They are missing an electron and therefore will go looking for another one somewhere in the body. A molecule in need of an electron is unstable and will latch onto anything that has an electron it can steal away.
Free radicals aren’t always bad things – sometimes the body creates them during metabolism or the immune system uses them to fight an infection. A healthy body can handle free radicals, but if the immune system gets run down or weakened, or if you don’t have enough antioxidants in your system, damage can occur.
Environmental toxicity, pesticides and cigarette smoke can create free radicals. Ultimately free radical damage leads to aging and possibly some diseases too (their role in certain types of cancer, strokes, and heart disease is still being investigated).
Free Radical Damage
The missing electron is the key to what free radicals are after. They roam around inside your body looking for another electron. Free radicals steal electrons from cells, DNA, enzymes and cell membranes.
Removing these electrons changes the composition of the structure it was stolen from. Cells are damaged and therefore don’t function normally. Enzymes can’t do their jobs as catalysts for cellular reactions.
Changing DNA is always a bad sign. Compromising the integrity of cellular membranes leaves them vulnerable to attack by viruses, bacteria and other invaders.
All of these results are caused by free radical damage. Free radicals are not just by-products of cellular processes. They can be introduced into our bodies from other places.
Foreign substances like cigarette or cigar smoke, radiation, drinking alcohol, air and water pollution or ingesting artificial products can lead to higher levels of free radicals in the body. Certain gases and even sunlight can affect the free radical levels in our bodies.
Scientists have investigated the idea that free radicals are responsible for many diseases in the body that affect us as we get older. As such, the problems that plague us as we get older are a result of the free radical damage done to our bodies.
Diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease and autoimmune diseases have some of their roots in free radical damage.
Tips to combat free radical damage:
- Try to eat a minimum of three portions of vegetables and at least two portions of fruit every day, including at least one citrus fruit – as citrus fruits contain a great source of antioxidants!
- A certain percentage of antioxidants are lost while cooking – so while you needn’t be extreme, try to eat raw fruit and vegetables as much as possible.
- Herbal teas contain great sources of antioxidants – but always purchase from a reputable source. Keep cells hydrated with lots of water too!
- Red wine can also help – only one glass a day is enough to give antioxidant benefit, so don’t exceed the limit.
- Nuts are also a good source of antioxidants – but don’t overdo portions, as the fat content cancels out health benefits!
- Always wear sunscreen to protect your skin against free radical damage and aging.
- Stop smoking and avoid second hand smoke inhalation, as this can lead to free radical creation within the body.
The Aging Process
This leads to another question: Are we aging more quickly than before?
The answer lies in the amount of free radicals in our bodies. The body has a defense mechanism that helps defend it from free radicals. Certain levels of free radicals can be managed. Cellular damage is repaired by the body.
Sometimes, our bodies can be overcome with too many free radicals and things go a little haywire. This condition is called oxidative stress. At this point, we become sick while our bodies are being overtaken by free radicals.
This is not an invasion by the body snatchers. The balance can be reversed with a little antioxidant power.
Ever wonder why some people age more gracefully than others? They have more cellular protection than others so they don’t fit the preconceived appearance of someone their age. And, isn’t that what we all want?
Here is more great information on the aging process and ways to slow it down.
What are Antioxidants?
Types of Antioxidants
When the inner body is in trouble from free radicals, antioxidants come to our rescue. Their main job is to fight free radicals and win. Antioxidants have been thrust to the forefront of the health scene as a sort of “anti-aging super substance.”
They are quite amazing. The nature of antioxidants is to neutralize free radicals in the body. Antioxidants are molecules that have an extra electron to share with the roaming free radicals. In their presence, they latch onto free radicals so they won’t steal electrons from other vital places.
There are several different kinds of antioxidants. They are categorized by the area of the body where they work.
Antioxidants our bodies use: water soluble and fat soluble. If you know anything about the body, it is 90 percent water. There is a significant water composition to our blood.
Our cellular membranes are protected by a double layer that is made of lipids. One side is hydrophobic (water hating) and the other side is hydrophilic (water loving). Cellular membranes need protection from free radical damage too.
Antioxidants help the internal environment of our bodies to stay in great working shape. You can change the outside with surgery and chemicals but if the inside is a wreck, you won’t live as long as you’d like.
Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals and other substances that keep cells repaired and lower the levels of free radicals in the system. Our immune systems are given a boost when antioxidants are around. This prevents diseases.
Our skin is an organ. In fact, it is the largest organ of the body. Antioxidants improve the look and feel of the skin which promotes a youthful appearance without benefit of outside sources. You can slow the aging process and live longer with constant ingestion of antioxidants.
Where to Find Antioxidants
Antioxidants, as was stated earlier, do not originate in the body. They come from our food. Some people take supplements, but supplementation is not the natural form for these molecules. The natural form provides not only antioxidants but other health properties for the body.
Eating a daily diet rich in the foods that contain antioxidants will do wonders for your inner body. If you are someone who likes variety, antioxidants can be found in a number of different food groups.
Besides, eating these foods more and more will also change your body composition. You’ll have more energy, lean muscle and lower disease incidence.
Antioxidants can be further divided into these categories: phytochemicals, anthocyanins, carotenoids and trace minerals. Each can be found in the foods we eat.
When searching for antioxidants, try to choose foods that have no pollutants, pesticides or other compounds added to them before eating. This reduces the amount of free radicals you are introducing into your body along with the antioxidants.
Phytochemicals are only found in plant substances. Two of the main antioxidants here are Vitamin C and Vitamin E. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of each is 400IU. This entire amount can be obtained from food.
Vitamin C is commonly found in citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, green peppers, cantaloupe, and strawberries. Broccoli, spinach, cabbage, collards and kale are a few of the leafy greens that contain Vitamin C. This vitamin is water soluble.
Water soluble antioxidants work primarily in the blood and other areas of the body where water is the primary substance to build up the body’s defenses against free radicals. They reduce the incidence of age-related diseases including lowering the risk of cancer.
Vitamin E is also an antioxidant. It can be found in legumes, nuts, seeds, cold water fish, whole grains, sweet potatoes, vegetable oil, nut butters, mangos, avocados and other vegetables.
Vitamin E is fat soluble. This antioxidant works in and around cellular membranes that are composed of fats to fight free radical damage. Bad cholesterol is less likely to stick to arterial walls and form plaques when fat soluble antioxidants are in sufficient quantities.
Trace minerals like selenium and zinc help antioxidants do their job. They are not technically antioxidants but they help to boost immunity.
These minerals are found in Brazil nuts, dairy products, fish, chicken, red meat, whole grains and seafood. In their presence the risk of arthritis and skin cancers are reduced.
Anthocyanins are phytochemicals but only exist in certain fruits and vegetables. They add the rich color to purple and blue fruits and vegetables.
Blueberries contain antioxidant anthocyanins in large quantities. They are also present in red grapes.
Carotenoids and Vitamin A
Carotenoids are another antioxidant substance. They reduce the risk of heart disease and coronary artery damage.
Carotenoids boost immunity and can work to reverse some free radical damage. Some common carotenoids are beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein.
Beta-carotene is most notably found in carrots. And we all know that carrots are legendary as improving eyesight.
Other sources of beta-carotene are: brightly colored veggies, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, dairy products, eggs and liver. Beta-carotene converts to a form of Vitamin A called retinol.
Lycopene is most notably found in tomatoes. Grapefruits and watermelon also contain lycopene. The antioxidant reduces heart disease and the incidence of prostate cancer.
Lutein is a substance that is added to multivitamin formulations. Green leafy vegetables, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables contain this antioxidant.
It is instrumental in preventing blindness. Examples of foods: kale, collards, corn, carrots, peas, tomatoes, lettuce, oranges and egg yolks.
Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant that displays some of the same properties as carotenoids. It is found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables as well as leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale and collards.
Top 20 Food Sources of Antioxidants
USDA scientists analyzed antioxidant levels in more than 100 different foods, including fruits and vegetables.
Each food was measured for antioxidant concentration as well as antioxidant capacity per serving size.
Cranberries, blueberries, and blackberries ranked highest among the fruits studied.
Beans, artichokes, and Russet potatoes were tops among the vegetables. Pecans, walnuts, and hazelnuts ranked highest in the nut category.
USDA chemist Ronald L. Prior says the total antioxidant capacity of the foods does not necessarily reflect their health benefit.
Benefits depend on how the food’s antioxidants are absorbed and utilized in the body.
Still, this chart should help consumers trying to add more antioxidants to their daily diet.
|Rank||Food item||Serving size||Total antioxidant capacity
per serving size
|1||Small Red Bean (dried)||Half cup||13,727|
|2||Wild blueberry||1 cup||13,427|
|3||Red kidney bean (dried)||Half cup||13,259|
|4||Pinto bean||Half cup||11,864|
|5||Blueberry (cultivated)||1 cup||9,019|
|6||Cranberry||1 cup (whole)||8,983|
|7||Artichoke (cooked)||1 cup (hearts)||7,904|
|12||Red Delicious apple||1 whole||5,900|
|13||Granny Smith apple||1 whole||5,381|
|15||Sweet cherry||1 cup||4,873|
|16||Black plum||1 whole||4,844|
|17||Russet potato (cooked)||1 whole||4,649|
|18||Black bean (dried)||Half cup||4,181|
|20||Gala apple||1 whole||3,903|
Another Food of Note
Antioxidants are found in the above-mentioned foods in larger quantities. Another source of antioxidants is chocolate. Chocolate has gained a bad reputation over the years but it has its humble roots in the Meso-American societies of the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans.
The cacao bean from which chocolate originates was highly prized. Many early civilizations used the beans as money. A man’s wealth and status were determined by his cache of cacao beans.
The bean was ground into a powder and used in a drink. The drink was prized by royalty and soldiers. Those who drank it noticed that they had increased libido, stamina, strength and less hunger. Part of this is due to the antioxidant properties of the bean.
Today, the chocolate with the highest antioxidants is dark chocolate. It also contains the highest percentage of pure cacao than any other chocolate.
If it worked for the Aztecs it can also work for us centuries later. Choose dark chocolate that has no other add-ins like nougat, nuts, cream or caramel. Eating a small amount of chocolate every day is healthy for the body.
Let’s Not Forget Tea!
Did you know that Green and black teas have 8 to 10 times the amount of antioxidants found in fruits and veggies, by one estimate? All teas from the camellia tea plant are rich in polyphenols, which are a type of antioxidant.
According to WebMD, the bulk of research shows that regular tea drinkers, people who drink two cups or more a day, have less heart disease and stroke, lower total and LDL (often called “bad”) cholesterol, and that they recover from heart attacks faster.
Some laboratory tests also show that black and green tea may help boost metabolism to aid weight loss, block allergic response, slow the growth of tumors, protect bones, fight bad breath, improve skin, protect against Parkinson’s disease, and even delay the onset of diabetes.
Green tea, black tea, oolong tea — all of these come from the same tea plant, Camellia sinensis. The leaves are simply processed differently, which gives rise to the different types/colors. The leaves of Green tea withered and steamed, not fermented, while Oolong and Black teas undergo a crushing and fermenting process.
But what about Roobios?
Red and green rooibos teas originate in South Africa, but the are not technically a tea due to the fact that rooibos does not come from the same camellia senensis plant, but is, instead, from the legume family – and this gives it a different chemical makeup. (My favorite Rooibos tea is Choice Organic Rooibos Tea)
Rooibos tea is becoming more popular in Western countries, particularly among health-conscious consumers, due to its high level of antioxidants such as aspalathin and nothofagin, its lack of caffeine, and its low tannin levels compared to fully oxidized black tea or unoxidized green tea leaves.
According to Chris Kilham, the Medicine Hunter, “Research conducted in Japan shows that rooibos possesses antimutagenic, anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and antiviral activity. Translation – it is powerfully protective. Additionally, rooibos appears to have anti-allergic properties.”
His article on Rooibos tea is fantastic, you should take a minute and read it here: Red Tea, Even Better for You than Green Tea?
Supplements are used to provide vitamins and minerals that you might miss in your daily diet. Being on the run with family and career can make it hard to get all of our antioxidant foods in each day. Some people use supplements.
While it is recommended that a multivitamin be taken each day, taking other supplements can be toxic in large doses. Before using supplementation to take in antioxidants like Vitamin C, E, A, and trace mineral, check with a physician. Although antioxidants found in food provide cellular protection, using too many supplements can actually work against the body.
One supplement I both take and recommend is: Bio-Oxidate Defense – an herbal antioxidant supplement with Resveratrol supports the aging process & discourages cell damage.
Some athletes are concerned with free radical damage. Exercising increases cellular metabolism and therefore increases the levels of free radicals.
Are they at risk for oxidative stress or premature aging?
The good news here is that if you exercise on a regular basis, your body will compensate for the increase in free radicals with enhanced cellular response. It seems that the body rises to the occasion since exercise is supposed to be good for the body. There is no evidence to suggest that athletes need to ingest higher amounts of antioxidants.
The downside is that if you are a person who exercises sporadically, you could be doing more harm than good. The increase in free radicals from the exercise is not matched by the body.
That is one explanation for why you end up with stress fractures, broken or fractured bones and other “badges” of your weekend warrior status.
Free radicals can lead to premature aging and diseases in the body because of the damage they do to cells and other body tissues. They are in search of an extra electron and will steal it from anywhere.
But, the body is not left without its defenses. To enhance those defenses, antioxidants from our food boost immune response, repair cells, neutralize free radicals and slow the aging process.
You can help the antioxidants do their job by reducing your exposure to outside sources of free radicals. There isn’t much you can do about cellular metabolism as it is a necessary process of life.
Other sources include: pollutants in air, water and soil, cigarette smoke, x-rays and too much sunlight. Stay looking and feeling young with foods rich in antioxidants.
More Great Info on Aging
Some scientists and physicians suggest that aging is a ‘disease’. This is not a fair description. Aging is not a disease but part of the process of life itself!
You cannot reverse aging but you can help slow it down to an optimal level which nature intended. So, how long should we live for? This is a subject of much debate and disagreement.
Some scientists claim extraordinary times…200+ years. However, this is really in the realm of science fiction.
The position of Xtend-Life is that it is possible to live to the projected maximum human life span of 120 years. To achieve this, your life has to be well balanced! In other words, your lifestyle, your diet, the amount of exercise you do, the environment you live in and your nutrient intake have to be as close as possible to optimal.
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