Antioxidants: What Are They?

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Have you ever wondered what it means when something is “rich in antioxidants?” What is an antioxidant anyway?

Antioxidants: What Are They and Why Are They Important for Your Skin?

What are antioxidants?

The body’s trillion or so cells face formidable threats, from lack of food to infection with a virus. Another constant threat comes from chemicals called free radicals. In very high levels, they are capable of damaging cells and genetic material. The body generates free radicals as the inevitable byproducts of turning food into energy. Free radicals are also formed after exercising or exposure to cigarette smoke, air pollution, and sunlight.

Free radicals come in many shapes, sizes, and chemical configurations. What they all share is a voracious appetite for electrons, stealing them from any nearby substances that will yield them. This electron theft can radically alter the “loser’s” structure or function. Free radical damage can change the instructions coded in a strand of DNA. It can make a circulating low-density lipoprotein (LDL, sometimes called bad cholesterol) molecule more likely to get trapped in an artery wall. Or it can alter a cell’s membrane, changing the flow of what enters the cell and what leaves it. An excessive chronic amount of free radicals in the body causes a condition called oxidative stress, which may damage cells and lead to chronic diseases.

We aren’t defenseless against free radicals. The body, long used to this relentless attack, makes many molecules that quench free radicals as surely as water douses fire. We also extract free-radical fighters from food. These defenders are labeled “antioxidants.” They work by generously giving electrons to free radicals without turning into electron-scavenging substances themselves. They are also involved in mechanisms that repair DNA and maintain the health of cells.

There are hundreds, probably thousands, of different substances that can act as antioxidants. The most familiar ones are vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and other related carotenoids, along with the minerals selenium and manganese. They’re joined by glutathione, coenzyme Q10, lipoic acid, flavonoids, phenols, polyphenols, phytoestrogens, and many more. Most are naturally occurring, and their presence in food is likely to prevent oxidation or to serve as a natural defense against the local environment.

But using the term “
antioxidant” to refer to substances is misleading. It is really a chemical property, namely, the ability to act as an electron donor. Some substances that act as antioxidants in one situation may be pro-oxidants—electron grabbers—in a different situation. Another big misconception is that antioxidants are interchangeable. They aren’t. Each one has unique chemical behaviors and biological properties. They almost certainly evolved as parts of elaborate networks, with each different substance (or family of substances) playing slightly different roles. This means that no single substance can do the work of the whole crowd.

How free radicals function

Free radicals are constantly being formed in your body.

Without antioxidants, free radicals would cause serious harm very quickly, eventually resulting in death.

However, free radicals also serve important functions that are essential for health. For example, your immune cells use free radicals to fight infections

As a result, your body needs to maintain a certain balance of free radicals and antioxidants.

When free radicals outnumber antioxidants, it can lead to a state called oxidative stress.

Prolonged oxidative stress can damage your DNA and other important molecules in your body. Sometimes it even leads to cell death.

Damage to your DNA increases your risk of cancer, and some scientists have theorized that it plays a pivotal role in the aging process (3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source).

Several lifestyle, stress, and environmental factors are known to promote excessive free radical formation and oxidative stress, including:

  • air pollution
  • cigarette smoke
  • alcohol intake
  • toxins
  • high blood sugar levels
  • high intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • radiation, including excessive sunbathing
  • bacterial, fungal, or viral infections
  • excessive intake of iron, magnesium, copper, or zinc
  • too much or too little oxygen in your body (8Trusted Source)
  • intense and prolonged exercise, which causes tissue damage
  • excessive intake of antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E
  • antioxidant deficiency
  • Prolonged oxidative stress leads to an increased risk of negative health
  • outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.
Your body needs to maintain a certain balance between free radicals and antioxidants. When this equilibrium is disrupted, it can lead to oxidative stress.

First, it is important to understand a little more about what antioxidants help defend us from – free radicals. Free radicals are unstable, highly reactive molecules that can cause chain reactions that damage millions of cells. They are created both in the environment and in our bodies, and the damage they cause leads to both internal and external aging.

Every day our young, healthy skin is exposed to trillions of free radicals from a variety of sources, such as the sun’s ultraviolet rays, pollution, smoke, internal processes, and external stress. Our skin cells, over time, will work less efficiently to produce the collagen and elastin necessary for skin smoothness, firmness, and elasticity. This decrease in collagen and elastin production becomes visible sometime in our late twenties or early thirties when we look in the mirror and discover our first wrinkle.

Antioxidants are nature’s defense to guard cellular structures and genetic material against the damaging effects of free radicals. A continuous supply of antioxidants is critical to counteract these free radicals for internal and external health.

Nu Skin’s skin care products can offer antioxidant benefits directly to the skin with antioxidant-rich vitamins and extracts in our formulations. For example, ageLOC Tru Face Essence Ultra is formulated with an antioxidant network comprised of colorless carotenoids, coenzyme Q10, vitamin C, vitamin E, and green tea (TeGreen 97). This network of antioxidants helps protect the skin from free radical assault that can impact the firmness and contour of the skin.

Through a greater understanding of free radicals we can better equip ourselves with the tools needed to defend against the signs of aging.

Antioxidants: How They Protect Us

We established that free radicals are created inside our bodies and all around us by pollution, UV radiation, x-rays, stress, strenuous exercise, and smoking. Those free radicals can damage lipids, proteins, and DNA, which is one of the root causes of aging.

Every day, the DNA in a single cell is bombarded by thousands of free radical assaults. Fortunately, our cells have repair enzymes that fix most of this damage. As we get older, the delicate balance between damage and repair becomes disrupted. When cells with damaged DNA replicate, they create cells with imperfect structures and a compromised ability to function properly.

In addition to the damage free radicals cause to DNA, they can also hurt other basic cellular structures and components. When scientists talk about the effect of free radicals on cellular components, they say the structure has been “oxidized.” Hence, the term for free radical-preventing nutrients became “antioxidants.”

Antioxidants are a category of nutrients that have the ability to protect us by fighting cell-damaging free radicals. By defending our cells against free radicals, antioxidants can help slow the internal and external aging processes. There are hundreds of known antioxidants, many of which are derived from plants.

Just as health and nutrition experts recommend a high intake of antioxidants from a variety of fruits, vegetables, and nutritional supplements, skin care experts also recognize the benefits of topically applied antioxidants. Skin care products can offer antioxidant benefits directly to the skin by including antioxidant-rich vitamins and extracts in their formulations. Supplementing internally and topically with antioxidants results in higher overall antioxidant levels than by either delivery method alone.

Nu Skin recommends using these products to help boost antioxidant levels*.

  • LifePak Nano Product Photo Main
  • g3
  • ageLOC TFEU
  • Tru Face IdealEyes

* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.