Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Free radical dodging

On a sunny day last week I saw an Asian girl walking round spitalfields with a parasol and gloves on to shield her from the sun. It wasn't exactly glaringly bright but she was obviously concerned about sun exposure and extremely pale. While this is of course extreme it is true that the sun ages your skin so reducing exposure slows down ageing, whilst in the converse going on sun beds and lying out in the sun excessively is a short cut to leathery skin later on.

The sun ages your skin by causing the generation of free radicals in the skin, these volatile molecules damage your cells and so age the body. Whilst I wouldn't recommend the parasol getup I saw, an spf moisturizer on your face and neck are a good idea as these area get the most sun exposure. But do try and expose some unprotected skin to some sunshine for 15 minutes a day to keep vitamin D levels up.

Free radical production isn't just triggered by the sun, so what are the other sources you should be avoiding to stay youthful and healthy?

Oxidized (fried/burnt) foods - so less barbecues and char grilled meats, go for steamed, roasted or lightly grilled foods.

Air pollution such as exhaust fumes. If you walk to work along a busy road or find yourself sat in non-moving traffic consider finding a less congested route into work. If you cycle in wear a mask and if you smoke give up immediately - smoking causes massive free radical damage in the body.

Pesticides and chemicals - pesticides found on non-organic fruit and veg as well as food additives and chemicals such as aspartame, can cause free radical damage and are totally unnatural so the body doesn't know how to process these. Eat organic whenever possible, wash fruit and veg thoroughly before eating it and avoid artificial preservatives and additives - food manufacturers have begun cutting these out more and more so they're not that tricky to avoid.

Chemical cleaning products - these can be full of harmful chemicals which you may inhale whilst using them. Switch to Ecover and other natural brands and ventilate your home when using chemicals eg cleaning or decorating.

The same applies for chemical moisturizers and beauty products which are all absorbed into the skin. Aim to avoid parabens, sulphates and petroleum based products. The easy way to do this is to switch to natural brands such as Liz Earle, Ren and Korres.

Electromagnetic radiation from routers, cordless phones and other wireless devices can generate free radicals. Turn them off when not in use and don't have these in your bedroom.

Breathing - even if you did nothing at all and lived in an oxygen tent, Michael Jackson style, your body would age, albeit it at a slower pace. This is because your body is constantly oxidising when it produces energy, generating free radicals. So every time you breathe you generate some oxidative damage.

Obviously you can't avoid breathing! but it does mean that very intensive exercise, that leads to increased respiration, does increase free radical damage in the body. This is why you need to up your intake of antioxidants and take particular care to avoid other sources of free radicals if you do a lot of exercise.

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