Both the cosmetic industry and nutritional sciences have highlighted that excess free radicals are harmful to the body.
The skin, particularly the face, is perhaps the area where premature aging caused by these cellular enemies is most evident.
However, besides damaging the health of the integumentary system (skin), free radicals affect all organs and systems: respiratory, digestive, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular.
Free radicals are a natural consequence of metabolic processes.
The metabolic system provides energy to all cells in the human body by combining the essential nutrients we take from foods (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals) with oxygen. In this process, as it always happens in nature, apart from what is necessary to live, collateral substances are also produced; these are eliminated, because harmful and unnecessary: excess waste, minerals and vitamins and free radicals.
They are born as “abnormal” molecules that have a single unpaired electron and, specifically for this reason, a very short lifespan.
Being magnetically reactive with neighboring molecules, they steal that electron which they are missing, deteriorating the integrity of the latter, triggering a sort of chain reaction which causes deterioration of the cells and the tissues which are part of it: muscles, skin, bone, liver, lungs, etc.
Generally speaking, free radicals are dangerous to the body because they:
> accelerate cellular aging;
> contribute to the inflammatory processes (diseases);
> reduce the efficacy of organ function;
> intervene in cellular modification, so they can cause tumors.
However, our metabolism has a weapon to rid itself of the free radicals produced by our body: antioxidant molecules.
These are able to neutralize them, helping to keep their level under control.
The problem arises when this increases, for reasons that can be both endogenous and environmental:
> drug abuse;
> exposure to atmospheric and non-atmospheric pollutants;
> excessive exposure to ionizing or UV rays;
> excessive physical activity.
Although we are not always able to distance ourselves from factors like pollution, we can certainly do it from those which depend on us alone: we can refrain from smoking, avoid exposure to the sun in the most dangerous hours of the day (from 11 am to 3 pm), and protect ourselves in any case with anti-UV creams. If we like doing sport, above all at a professional level, even if our body adapts by producing more endogenous antioxidants, we must, in any case, take more exogenous antioxidants, through nutrition.
A healthy diet, eating a variety of foods whilst respecting the principles of the Mediterranean diet, is essential to combat an excessive amount of free radicals, whether we do sport or not. A simple stratagem to take the right quantity and variety of antioxidants is to change the color of fruit and vegetables we eat every day, because each of them corresponds to a type of nutrient.
There are powerful antioxidants such as vitamin E which is found in olive oil, C which is found in peppers, tomatoes, citrus fruits, kiwis, A which we find above all in milk, dairy products, eggs and liver.
Carotenoids are vitamin A precursors and are present in orange fruit and vegetables and in those with dark green leaves.
Other excellent antioxidants are lycopene which we find in tomatoes and in all red vegetables.
Cruciferous vegetables (all kinds of cabbage), white fruit and vegetables and blue-red vegetables such as eggplants, cherries, etc. are also very rich in antioxidants.
The contents of this article are in accordance with the parameters set out by the European Food Safety Authority - EFSA.