Real Girl Lifestyle

So what exactly *is* a free radical?

Posted on: July 12, 2010

Hint: We’re not talking Che Guevara.

Real Girl’s readers should understand why I swoon over antioxidants so often, and why they’re so crucial to keep your body healthy and your skin more youthful. If we lived in a different world–one without pollution, cigarette smoke, UV rays, we probably wouldn’t have to worry all that much about supplementing our diets and skin care products with extra antioxidants. The body naturally fights oxidation all the time. It’s just that our environment heaps on more of it than our body can handle–and that’s when the free radical damage can get out of control. Free radicals create more free radicals. And if the chain reaction isn’t stopped or prevented, then over time, your body suffers for it–not only with wrinkles, but also with potential for diseases, including cancer.

Oxidation messes lots of things up: it causes rust, it makes fruit spoil, and it begins vicious chain reactions in our bodies that lead to weakened cells. Boo, hiss to oxidation.

Your cells are made up of molecules, and the number of electrons shared by those molecules determines whether chemical reactions will occur. Atoms want to bond with other atoms to fill up their electron shells. Shell filled? Boom, molecule stable. Until oxidation occurs. The process of oxidation causes otherwise stable molecules to lose an electron, making them profoundly unstable. Now they’re called free radicals. Free radicals want nothing more than an electron, and they’ll attack a neighboring molecule to get it. Now that molecule becomes a free radical. A chain of damage has begun, and as the cell’s molecules attack each other looking for electrons, the cell becomes weakened. It can die, or it can mutate, growing abnormally and reproducing abnormally.

But you can fight back. You can mend your damaged cells and prevent future molecular damage–and you do this with antioxidants.

Do you hear the angels singing? And playing their harps? I think the lyrics have something to do with Vitamin C and E, the two antioxidant superstars. And you thought angels only cared about topping Christmas trees. Antioxidants are able to give away an electron and still remain stable. So when a free radical meets an antioxidant, the chain reaction of damage can end–the free radical finds what it needs without damaging another molecule. Your cell remains safe and healthy. Vitamin C (water-soluble) hangs out in the cell fluid, capturing a free radical and neutralizing it before it can start its damage. Vitamin E (fat-soluble) works in the membranes to stop a chain already in motion. Both are crucial nutrients to have in your diet, and although the research isn’t 100% conclusive, there have been many studies that suggest these antioxidants can be beneficial when applied topically to skin. Another potent class of antioxidants are flavonoids, which are plentiful in all tea, but especially green and white.

You can find plenty of Real Girl posts that recommend products with topical antioxidants. Expect in the future to read up on where you can get your dietary doses. Real Girl wants to help you out on all fronts. The more free radical chain reactions we can stop in your body, the better. Not only for beauty’s sake, but for health’s. Reversing and preventing this damage will make your body younger, outside and in.

(If you’re interested in reading more about how oxidation, free radicals, and antioxidants work, find more information here and here.)


1 Response to "So what exactly *is* a free radical?"

[…] Antioxidants, collagen boosters, cell repairing ingredients, all that good stuff we’ve discussed–Real Girl always thought only her face deserved the investment in these targeted, often expensive ingredients. And then summer came. One bright, sunny day, Real Girl put on her chemical facial sunscreen (SPF 45) under her mineral facial sunscreen (SPF 30), and then she trotted off for a couple hours to bask on the vast, open green lawn of Central Park’s Sheep’s Meadow. To be extra safe, her face was shaded by a ball cap. Those destructive UV rays would not be wrinkling my not-quite-yet mature Real face! My body, however… […]

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