Free Radicals and Antioxidants

Free Radicals:

Oxygen is vital for human life; it is needed for the production of energy. However, it can also be dangerous because it causes the production of free radicals. A free radical is an unstable molecule that can damage cell structures in the search for an extra electron. The job of antioxidants is to neutralize these free radicals by supplying to extra electron, dissipating the threat they cause.

Free radicals are manufactured in our body, and also come from:

  • Sunlight
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Car exhaust
  • Processed foods
  • Air pollution

Skin Aging and Free Radicals

The oxidation hits of free radicals to the DNA in cells can occur thousands of times per second, making it very important to supplement our diets with antioxidants, and network antioxidants! If we do not replenish our natural antioxidant levels and keep a nice balance, we will leave our body vulnerable to damage.

Some free radicals, similar to antioxidants, can help regulate cellular function by signaling to turn genes on and off of. In times of threat or infection some free radicals are used to attack harmful bacteria by poisoning them.

Yet, they can also turn and wreak havoc on healthy cells, so it is important to supplement with antioxidants.

Dr. Denham Harman’s Free Radical Theory

“Free radicals are oxygen molecules that have lost an electron in interactions with other molecules. As a result, these molecules are extremely unstable, or reactive…”

“In their quest to ‘heal’ themselves, free radicals steal electrons from healthy molecules, creating even more free radicals and damaging DNA in the process.” –Denham Harman, M.D.

The key to health is in the balance between free radicals and antioxidants.


When an antioxidant encounters a free radical, it engulfs it making it part of its molecular structure. In this process, the antioxidant itself becomes a very weak free radical that can help the body and is very unlikely to do any harm.

There are hundreds of antioxidants: some naturally produced by the body and some need to be obtained from food or supplements.

Some of the best antioxidants come from plant-derived substances that neutralize free radicals and repair previous damage to fibroblast cells.

The result is age retardation and some reversal of previously aged skin.
Examples of popular and powerful antioxidants are seen everywhere in nature: Vitamin C, Tangerine, Pink Grapefruit, Orange, Lemon, Berries, Seeds, Zinc, Tea, Soy, etc!

Network Antioxidants:
Special antioxidants that work together to strengthen the body and protect the body from disease and damage. They greatly enhance the power of one another and help to keep the antioxidant/ free radical balance. Network antioxidants can also regenerate or recycle each other, extending their power. As a result, they are very effective in slowing down the aging process and boosting the body’s ability to fight disease.

Vitamin C

A vitamin that has to come from a food source because the body doesn’t produce it. It is found in plants, fruits and vegetables like red peppers, broccoli, berries, citrus fruits, cabbage, potatoes and tomatoes. It is water soluble.

FACT: Scurvy was a disease that many suffered from – mostly sailors – due to the lack of vit C in the diet. Many sailors, especially those who did hard labor while away at sea, did not eat fruits and vegetables while away for three or four months at a time and contracted this disease because of their weakened immune system and free radical damage. At the time it was believed to come from extreme exercise, but in the middle of the 18th century, the source of the disease was discovered by James Lind – who studied the disease and tested cures, putting his observations in a book. His findings were not adopted until after his death). In 1795, The British Admiralty made a law where sailors were forced to eat oranges and lemons when on duty at sea.

Vitamin C is the best for building and strengthening the body’s collagen (and the skin’s.) Collagen is the protein that forms the connective tissue that supports the dermis (or outer layer of skin).

As we age, collagen production decreases. Until now, it was believed that there was little that could be done, as loss of collagen was a natural part of aging. However, research has shown that topical Vitamin C can actually stimulate the production of collagen and make the skin look and fell more taught and youthful. In this research, skin cells treated with Vit C grew faster and thicker than those not treated.

Vit C topically can be even more effective when combined with Vit E and the flavinoid Pycnogenol.

Vitamin E

A vitamin that has to come from a food source because the body doesn’t make it. It is fat soluble. Vitamin E helps to greatly strengthen the immune system. There are three main types of Vit E that are all important and work together:

  • Alpha Tocopherol – this one gets the most attention because it is most readily accepted in to the skin.
  • Gamma Tocopherol – founding soy and corn oils – it may help to block the biochemical pathways that trigger inflammation and cancer.
  • Tocotrienols – found in cereal, wheat and oat bran – they have the same basic functions as tocopherols but are different in molecular shape, making them special above their antioxidant powers – their shape help them move easily around the cell membrane to help to treat clogged arteries and help reduce cholesterol levels (they get into and through areas that normal tocopherols cannot).

Lipoic Acid

A star antioxidant made in very small amounts by the body. Recycles every other antioxidant and itself; is both oil and water soluble, making it the most important for the body! It is allowed into both oil and water parts of the cells so it can help neutralize free radicals anywhere in the body.


This antioxidant is one of the most abundant, can come from food and is found in almost every cell in the body. It’s produced by the body from three main amino acids taken from food and declines in production after age 40 (severely by age 60). It is very important when dealing with the aging process and the brain. It comes from food sources, but is broken down during digestion. In order to supplement the system, one needs to take Lipoic Acid, which increases natural glutathione levels.

Glutathione helps to detoxify the body: there are high concentrations of this antioxidant in the liver cells.

Glutathione is an anti-aging antioxidant: Glutathione levels decline rapidly with age and that is considered to increase free radical aging of the body. Research has shown that raising glutathione levels (like Vit E) extends the life of the cells and the body!


A fat soluble antioxidant that works synergistically with Vitamin E to prevent free radical attack and damage in the fatty part of the body’s cells.

This antioxidant is a co-enzyme found in humans and large mammals (animals and organisms whose life span is very short! Have CoQ8 or 9 instead).
CoQ10 is involved in the healing cycle of the skin: the mechanism in which the body produces ATP energy to heal cellular damage. It is found in all cell membranes and also located within the cells. It is highest in the mitochondria, or energy powerhouse, of each cell.

Antioxidants also help to control our DNA:
The DNA that is carried in our genes carries a set of instructions that regulates all cellular activity. It is our DNA and genes that tells the body when to send cells to fight infection, etc. Antioxidants regulate the expression of genes. They switch genes on and off in accordance to what the body needs. At a young age, our genes send messages loud and clear that the body easily understands. As we age, these messages become foggy because our antioxidant defenses become overwhelmed with responsibilities and the levels begin to decline. In addition, pollution, poor diet, smoking, stress and others factors increase the free radical production and threat confronting the body’s antioxidant defense, making it harder for it to act as a personal physician for our system. It is under these conditions that disease can take hold. This is another reason we need to increase antioxidant supplementation as we age to maintain health like we had in our youth!

Exercise and antioxidants:
Exercise turns up the metabolic rate, causing you to burn more oxygen. During exercise, oxygen can burn several times higher than normal – and when oxygen is burned, free radicals are formed.
Vit E can protect you from the damage caused by the free radical formation caused by exercise.

“…after a strenuous workout, there is an enormous decrease in glutathione levels and signs of lipid peroxidation, which means the body is in oxidative stress, and lipids and proteins are being damaged. After a period of exercise, the body repairs the damaged lipids and proteins, and about 99.9% are returned to normal. However, a tiny fraction will remain damaged, and over time, the accumulated damage can cause problems. That is why it is especially important for people who exercise regularly to have their antioxidant defenses in place…” – Lester Hacker, The Antioxidant Miracle

Antioxidant Boosters these powerful ingredients help boost the protecting power of the network antioxidants.

  • Flavonoids – found in green and white teas and berries
  • Gingko Biloba – the famous green plant known for boosting memory
  • Pycnogenol – maritime pine bark extract
  • Carotenoids – found in carrots, wild yams, mango, or other yellow / orange vegetables!
  • Lycopene – found in tomatoes
  • Selenium – found in nuts

written by Jennifer Laz, Licensed Esthetician, bien-être spa

The Antioxidant Miracle, Lester Hacker

HELMUT SIES, Experimental Physiology ( 1 997), 82, 29t)1 295

The free radical theory of aging
Nathan C. Nelson, Department of Physics, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43201

”The Free-Radical Theory of Aging: Part I – How it all began”
Interview with Dr. Denham Harman by Richard A. Passwater Ph.D.

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