One may be under the impression that the world just went crazy about antioxidants. Numerous articles describe them as a cure for all ills. Antioxidants are said to be capable of beating cancer and smoothing wrinkles off one’s face. Some scientists claim that antioxidants may be a key to long life. There is no way one can do without antioxidants these days or so the media claims. Every facial cream or lotion contain them, every food supplement is made of them, and every article on anti-aging techniques published in a glossy magazine mentions them. In short, antioxidants seem to be ubiquitous. It is about time we shed some light on the subject in order to separate facts from fancy.
To begin with, oxygen is a lead in the play. Oxygen takes part in chemical reactions which generate energy for all biological processes in the body. As a powerful oxidizing agent, oxygen brings out a process called oxidation which creates free radicals, the by-products of oxidation. Free radicals are electrons which are no longer attached to atoms. Once they stop circling the nucleus of an atom, those free radical become pretty aggressive and start running wild. They go careening through the cells, causing damage to whatever comes in the way. As a result, everything gets broken to smithereens and the cell structure is in total disarray.
Let us assume that molecules composing the cells of the human body are law-abiding citizens who work and mind their own business. On the contrary, free radicals act like a group of criminals and troublemakers. They like harassing the law-abiding citizens; they regularly beat them up and even take their lives at times. Fortunately, the situation does not go from bad to worse: along come the police. Antioxidants police the area, arresting free radicals to neutralize them. The above scenario applies to the body of a healthy individual. However, things may get pretty ugly if the number of free radicals exceeds that of antioxidants for one reason or another, or antioxidants are not strong enough to do the job properly. In this case, a state of anarchy is quick to set in. Needless to say, anarchy usually results in all kinds of damage to the body: the deterioration of bone, joints and connective tissue, the wearing out of organs, the decline of the immune system, to name just the few.
There are different kinds of antioxidants. Endogenous antioxidants are produced by the body e.g. female sex hormones, coenzyme Q, ferments of superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione etc. Exogenous antioxidants are derived from the diet: vitamin C, selenium, flavonoids etc.
Now, let us expose some of the most popular myths surrounding antioxidants.
Myth No 1: Diet is not a good source of antioxidants
Well, the results may vary. You are what you eat or so the saying goes. No doubt about it, you will not get enough antioxidants if you are a patron of a fast-food restaurant or stick to a high-protein diet. But you do not have to worry if your diet is rich in fruit and vegetables. Drinking a glass or two of red wine now and then is even better when it comes to the long-term effects of antioxidants.
On the whole, plants and herbs contain plenty of antioxidants. The following are particularly known for their high content of antioxidants: sea buckthorn, horse chestnut, bilberry, grape and grape seed, green tea, garlic, gingko biloba.
Myth No 2: You cannot but take antioxidants in supplement form
Antioxidants in supplement form are strongly recommended only in case of a protracted disease, toxins poisoning, overexposure to the effects of ultraviolet radiation, and treatment of radiation sickness. Supplements with a high content of antioxidants are thought to be beneficial for senior citizens.
Myth No 3: Taking a single antioxidant can do the trick
There is a trap set for every antioxidant, and therefore you are unlikely to reap the benefits by taking one antioxidant only.
Moreover, antioxidants work as best they can if two or several of them are united for the common purpose. An antioxidant becomes oxidized and inactive after transferring its electron to a free radical. To be active again, an antioxidant needs a quick fix. For instance, vitamin C can be put back in order by glutathione. Likewise, vitamin C can set vitamin E to rights.
Incidentally, do not delude yourself into thinking that your facial cream with a “powerful antioxidant” listed on its label will work wonders. The cream’s antioxidant will not have any beneficial effects whatsoever on your skin. Keeping in mind that the cream on your face is regularly exposed to the environment, the antioxidant should be strong enough to prevent oxidation of the cream in the first place.
Myth No 4: The higher is the content of antioxidants in cosmetics, the better are the results
Rubbish. The formula “the more, the better” simply does not apply in this case. Once there is a great increase in the number of antioxidants, the latter promptly turn into pro-oxidants and start siding with the enemy.
In other words, antioxidants contained in a daytime cream (the one that does not penetrate below the horny tissue) are quite handy for protecting skin against the damaging effects of the environment. However, antioxidants in a nourishing cream can be used for trapping free radicals only when the natural defenses of the skin have been compromised following overexposure to the sun. The cream’s antioxidants can also help treat minor skin irritation and desquamation.
Myth No 5: Today’s cosmetics contain antioxidants, and therefore can stop the advance of the visible effects of aging
The above conclusion does not necessarily follow. Irrefutable evidence has yet to be gathered to prove the rejuvenating properties attributed to antioxidants. On the other hand, there is enough evidence to justify the use antioxidants for healing skin conditions such as minor burns, irritations etc. Antioxidants have been found to be an effective remedy for protecting skin against the effects of UV radiation. In view of the above, antioxidants are especially good for the use in anti-sunburn creams and lotions, aftershaves, and soothing lotions applied to the skin after chemical peeling.
Myth No 6: It makes no difference whether you use synthetic antioxidants or natural ones.
The allegation is completely groundless. The confluence of antioxidants of natural origin can protect the body against free radicals far more effectively than any of the present-day synthetic antioxidants. Manufacturers of cosmetics and supplements are still technologically incapable of making a group of various synthetic antioxidants work as one in the best possible way. Despite the fact that scientists have been making progress in the field by leaps and bounds, plant extracts and natural oils remain the best antioxidants.
Translated by Guerman Grachev