Antioxidants: You probably hear about them all the time, right? Like how great they are for your body, and how important they are for your skin, but do you really know why they’re so amazing?
The Importance of Antioxidants
Cellular damage caused by free radicals and oxidation is the number one contributor to aging and degenerative diseases. So, how does the body receive protection from free radicals? ★ Antioxidants. ★
Let me tell you a little secret: If you want to postpone the natural aging process and prevent fine lines and wrinkles, then you absolutely, 110% MUST eat antioxidants and LOTS of them.
Antioxidants literally control how fast you age and play a significant role in your overall health, both internally and externally.
As we age, the body’s ability to produce antioxidants decreases, which is why consuming them as part of your daily diet is that much more important.
What Are Free Radicals?
In order to understand the true importance and function of antioxidants, you need to be somewhat familiar with free radicals.
Free radicals are uncharged molecules having a single, unpaired electron in their outer orbital shell. They are highly reactive and very unstable. In attempt to regain stability, a free radical will attack and steal an electron from another molecule. The victimized molecule then becomes a free radical itself through a process known as oxidation.
Side Note: To learn more about free radicals, check out The Free Radical Theory of Aging.
Inadequate protection from free radical oxidation leads to oxidative stress, inflammation, cellular damage (nucleic acids, proteins, lipids), accelerated aging, and over 60 different degenerative diseases (seriously, so annoying).
Free radicals are inevitable. They are produced within the body as a result of normal metabolic processes, and in reaction to external stimuli. The production of free radicals has a domino effect and can quickly escalate if not controlled. This is where antioxidants come into play.
What Are Antioxidants?
As their name suggests, ANTIoxidants, are superstar molecules that protect the body from cellular damage caused by free radicals and oxidation.
Antioxidants are extremely important in preventing damage to cells and tissue and are absolutely necessary in order to maintain flawless skin and a healthy body. They neutralize free radicals and inhibit their abilities to oxidize, or attack, other healthy molecules.
Antioxidants (AKA electron donors), “donate” an electron to a free radical, which completes its’ outer shell. This allows the free radical to return to a stable state. Unlike other molecules, when antioxidants donate an electron, they do NOT become free radicals themselves. Antioxidants are stable regardless of the number of electrons in their outer shell. Pretty cool, yeah?
Without an adequate supply of antioxidants to combat free radicals, the body is at a very high risk of oxidative stress, accelerated aging, and cellular damage.
To sum it up, antioxidants have three major roles: neutralize free radicals, protect cells from oxidative damage, and prevent diseases/aging.
What does this mean for you?
It means that you need to become f*cking obsessed with antioxidants.
In order to maintain a youthful appearance, antioxidants must be eaten regularly as part of your daily diet, and applied topically as part of your morning and evening skin care regimens.
Classification of Antioxidants
Obviously, like everything else “anti-aging,” antioxidants are another super complex topic.
Tbh, when I first started researching them, I was slightly overwhelmed. Okay, not slightly, very. I wanted this blog post to list off all of the BEST antioxidants for flawless skin and anti-aging, but I also wanted it to be comprehensive and informative, so bear with me here.
There are many different ways to categorize antioxidants, including: type, solubility, mode of action, location, structural dependents, and origin. Blah blah blah, whatever.
I could sit here and tell you all about the super boring, super complicated science of antioxidants, or, I could tell you about what’s important: knowing what antioxidants are the best for anti-aging.
I think I’ll go with the latter. Cool?
Here’s the bottom line:
The body has several antioxidant defense systems consisting of endogenous and exogenous components, which fight free radicals and counteract oxidative damage. These antioxidant defense system can be divided into two parts: enzymatic and non-enzymatic systems.
Enzymatic antioxidants are strictly produced inside the human body. Enzymatic antioxidants are also commonly referred to as primary antioxidants because they are the body’s first line of defense against free radicals.
Enzymatic antioxidants prevent cellular damage by breaking down and removing free radicals. They can be subdivided into to groups: primary enzymes and secondary enzymes.
Primary enzymatic antioxidants include: superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), and glutathione peroxidase (GPx).
Secondary enzymatic antioxidants include: glutathione reductase (GRx) and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PDH).
Enzymatic antioxidants have extremely high catalytic properties (1:1,000,000 antioxidant to free radical ratio). One molecule of SOD, CAT, and/or GPx eliminates millions of free radicals.
So pretty much, these guys are amazinggg. Maybe when Migos wrote the song, Bad & Boujee, they were talking about enzymatic antioxidants. Totally kidding.
Non-enzymatic antioxidants cannot be produced inside the body and must be obtained from antioxidant rich foods and supplements.
Non-enzymatic antioxidants are also commonly referred to as secondary antioxidants and can be subdivided into two groups: endogenous (metabolic) and exogenous (nutrient).
Are you confused yet? I’m guessing yes.
Don’t worry if you are, because honestly, this sh*t is kind of like a college calculus class, there’s a 99.99% chance you will never need to give AF about any of it.
Anyways, I’ve actually made this pretty easy to understand. (Although it did take me over one month to accomplish- yeah, you’re welcome).
Endogenous (Metabolic) Antioxidants
Endogenous (metabolic) non-enzymatic antioxidants are produced by metabolism in the body. Like, duh.
This includes ubiquinone (CoQ10), alpha lipoic acid (ALA), uric acid, and like a zillion other things that you really don’t need to worry about.
Endogenous antioxidants are known as the second line of defense against free radicals because they work synergistically with enzymatic antioxidants.
Exogenous (Nutrient) Antioxidants
Exogenous (nutrient) non-enzymatic antioxidants are provided via nutrients (obviously), and supplements. They 110% cannot be produced in the body. These non-enzymatic antioxidants are the ones you’ll find in foods and supplements, such as: carotenoids, polyphenols (flavonoids, phenolic acids), vitamins, and minerals.
Exogenous antioxidants are also referred to as secondary antioxidants. They boost the enzymatic antioxidant system by doing a “first sweep” of free radicals. This helps to avoid depletion of the body’s enzymatic antioxidants.
Exogenous antioxidants prevent cellular damage by breaking free radical chain reactions.
The Fab Five
Okayyy let’s get to the point. You’re reading this article because you want to know what the BEST antioxidants are for anti-aging, right?
Unfortunately, there isn’t ONE magical antioxidant to fight the signs of aging. There are actually TONS of extremely important, beneficial antioxidants out there to help combat the natural aging process. Because of this, it’s very important to include a wide variety of antioxidants in your daily diet and skincare routine.
Glutathione is the OG of all the antioxidants.
(For those of you who aren’t up to speed, OG = original gangster). Feel me, homie?
Literally, though. Glutathione is considered to be the “master” antioxidant and is more than 5,000 times stronger than any other antioxidant. To put that into perspective for you, glutathione has one million donor electrons to share, while vitamin C has five, and vitamin E has three. #killingit
Glutathione is produced inside the body from three amino acids: cysteine (sulphur containing amino acid), glutamic acid, and glycine.
Another reason why glutathione is totally amazing? It has the ability to regenerate itself and most other antioxidants. Like I said, OG status.
Sources: The best way to increase your glutathione level is by consuming a diet rich in any of the three amino acids components, especially cysteine. This includes sulfur rich foods, such as garlic, cauliflower, kale, collards, onions, and eggs. Other foods that increase glutathione are: broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, spinach, avocado, squash, melons, grapefruit, peaches, and bioactive whey.
Side Note: It is not advisable to take glutathione as a supplement because its technically a protein and the body is unable to metabolize it. However, taking supplements that promote glutathione production can be beneficial, such as ALA, NAC amino acid, folic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, selenium, vitamin C, and vitamin E.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA)
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), also referred to as lipoic acid, is the only Universal antioxidant due to its’ ability to operate in both fat and water soluble parts of cells.
ALA also has the ability to regenerate all antioxidants, including itself. This powerful antioxidant is a free radical scavenger and helps repair proteins that have been damaged as a result of oxidative stress.
Sources: Brussel sprouts, brewer’s yeast, liver, peas, potatoes, red meat, rice bran, dark leafy greens (i.e. spinach, kale)
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), also referred to as ubiquinone, is an enzyme that is naturally produced in the body. This oil soluble antioxidant is a critical component of healthy cell function and is present in each and every cell in the human body.
The body converts CoQ10 to its reduced form, ubiquinol.
CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant that fights free radicals, helps prevent and repair cellular damage, and inhibits lipid peroxidation in mitochondrial membranes of cells. It also supports cellular energy and is a very important component of ATP (energy) production.
If you haven’t already realized this from reading my previous blog posts, after the age of about 20, there are far worse things that happen to your body than not being able to pull all nighters anymore. It’s pretty much all downhill from here for our skin, too. This is because important natural anti-aging activities, such collagen production, start to slow down. CoQ10 is no different.
So, once you hit age 20, your body’s ability to convert CoQ10 to ubiquinol slowly starts to decrease. As a result, the skin becomes more prone to free radical damage and the loss of collagen and elastin. To sum that up for you, it means you become much more susceptible to the development of fine lines and wrinkles. Ughhh, getting old sucks.
Sources: CoQ10 is readily found in meat, poultry, fish, nuts, soybeans, and canola oil. It can also be taken as a supplement, but you don’t need to start taking it in supplement form until your late twenties at the earliest.
Vitamin E is a very potent, fat soluble vitamin.
There are actually eight different forms of vitamin E: alpha-tocopherol, beta-tocopherol, gamma-tocopherol, delta-tocopherol, alpha-tocotrienol, beta-tocotrienol, gamma-tocotrienol, and delta-tocotrienol.
Each form of vitamin E has it’s own health benefits, but in the human body, alpha tocopherol is the most effective, bioavailable form.
The most notable, amazing function of vitamin E is to protect cell membranes from lipid peroxidation by reacting with the lipid radical. The result is the formation of oxidized alpha tocopheroxyl radicals, which can be recycled by vitamin C, alpha lipoic acid (ALA), and co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10).
Vitamin E also helps prevent damage caused by UVA/UVB rays.
Sources: Vegetable oils, nuts, avocados, seeds, whole grains, eggs
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is notorious for boosting the immune system. This water soluble vitamin is also a very powerful antioxidant that is absolutely essential for anti-aging.
The fact that vitamin C is water soluble makes it the most easily transported antioxidant out of the Fab Five.
Vitamin C promotes collagen production, increases skin elasticity, and helps to repair and regenerate skin cells. It also helps to calm and hydrate the skin. Vitamin C is recycled by alpha lipoic acid (ALA). It also recycles vitamin E, which is another member of the Fab Five.
Sources: The human body is unable to produce vitamin C, so it must be obtained through foods and supplements. Top sources of vitamin C include: citrus fruits (i.e. oranges), berries, kiwi, mangoes, broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, green, leafy vegetables, and peppers.
The Side Chicks
Carotenoids are the natural pigments found in plants and animals that give them their vibrant colors. There are currently over 700 naturally occurring carotenoid variants, about 60 of which can be found in foods. Carotenoids are separated into two major groups:
Carotenes: Carotenes are fat soluble and do not contain any oxygen atoms. They are responsible for orange pigments.
Xanthophylls: Xanthophylls are fat soluble and contain oxygen atoms. They are responsible for yellow pigments.
Beta Carotene is a carotenoid that is recognized by its bright orange-red color. It is one of the most important antioxidants you can eat and is a key nutrient in preventing the natural aging process.
Beta carotene is a very potent antioxidant with many anti-aging benefits. It is considered a provitamin because once ingested, the body converts beta carotene into active vitamin A, which is one of the most powerful fighters against aging.
Vitamin A restores and regenerates damaged collagen, and promotes the production of new collagen. It also protects the skin from the damaging effects of oxidation.
Beta carotene is a top free radical fighter. It helps to maintain the health of skin and eyes, and also balances the skin’s pH levels.
Sources: Sweet potato, carrots, squash, pumpkin, mango, apricots, cantaloupe, papaya
Note: Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin, which means that in order for the body to properly absorb it, the presence of a dietary fat (i.e. avocado) is required.
Lycopene doesn’t get nearly enough recognition for being the amazing rockstar antioxidant that it is.
Lycopene is a carotenoid that is known for its bright red color. It promotes collagen production and prevents DNA damage from free radical attacks.
Sources: Tomatoes (#1 source), red bell pepper, pink grapefruit, watermelon, red cabbage, guava
Note: Cooked tomatoes have much higher concentrations of lycopene than raw tomatoes.
Lutein is a carotenoid and contains a huge list of health benefits.
Leutin is an excellent free radical scavenger and promotes skin health and healing. This fat soluble antioxidant greatly helps to reduce oxidative damage to the skin, which is a leading contributor to the formation of wrinkles.
Lutein also helps absorb harmful UV rays and blue light, which are two of the top contributors to the production of free radicals.
Lutein helps protect the eyes from common disorders and the heart from plaque build up. It also helps keep the lungs young and the brain sharp.
Sources: Leafy greens, broccoli, brussels sprouts, green beans
Astaxanthin (asta-zan-thin) is super powerful carotenoid. Astaxanthin is a deep red colored phytonutrient; it’s what gives salmon its pinkish color.
Astaxanthin tremendously helps to slow down the aging process by fighting free radicals. In fact, out of all the carotenoids, astaxanthin is the #1 free radical scavenger because of it’s ability to neutralize multiple free radicals at once.
This powerful antioxidant is both water and fat soluble, and carries a huge range of health benefits. In regard to the skin, astaxanthin helps to reduce inflammation and oxidative damage to DNA. It also protects and prevents damage caused by UV rays. Astaxanthin also promotes smooth, supple skin because it increases skin moisture and moisture retention.
Another super cool benefit of astaxanthin? It supports blood circulation, which allows for nutrients to be efficiently and effectively delivered to the skin.
Sources: Salmon, supplements
Note: Personally, I take a krill oil + astaxanthin supplement daily. My personal favorite is Viva Naturals Krill Oil. (CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE).
AKA bioflavonoids, are the natural pigments found in plants, giving them their colors. There are currently over 4,000 known flavonoid variants, about 50 of which can be found in food.
Flavonoids are separated into six major groups:
Flavonoids have excellent antioxidant properties due to their abilities to neutralize free radicals and recycle other antioxidants. Flavonoids also help to regulate the natural production of free radicals as a result of normal metabolic processes and have anti-inflammatory properties.
Sources: Cocoa (dark chocolate), green tea, grapes (red wine), apples, berries, pomegranates
Catechins are water soluble polyphenols (flavonoids). As a flavonoid, catechins naturally help to recycle other antioxidants.
The coolest thing about catechins is that they inhibit the breakdown of connective tissue (collagen and elastin) by preventing the death of fibroblast cells. Fibroblast cells, located in the dermal layer of the skin, are responsible for making connective tissue. The breakdown of these proteins leads to fine lines and wrinkles. Catechins also improve blood flow, which allows nutrients to be delivered more efficiently, and help reduce inflammation.
There are five different catechins: Catechin (C), Epicatechin (EC), Epigallocatechin (EGC), Epicatechin Gallate (ECG), and Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG).
The most amazing catechin of the group is EGCG.
EGCG is the main catechin found in green tea and it’s pretty much f*cking amazing for your skin and body.
EGCG is an extremely potent antioxidant, containing 25-100 times the antioxidant capabilities of vitamins A, C and E. EGCG also repairs DNA damage as a result of oxidation and stabilizes sensitive, irritated skin.
Most importantly, EGCG delays the natural aging process by reducing the rate at which collagen is broken down and helping to regenerate aging surface skin cells.
So instead of drinking coffee in the morning, start drinking green tea. Aim for 3 cups a day. When you’re 50 years old and your skin looks better than most other women your age, you’ll be thanking yourself.
Sources: Green tea, red wine, garlic, dark chocolate, grapes, apples
Resveratrol is a fat soluble flavonoid antioxidant that is produced by plants in response to stress. Resveratrol also is known for boosting enzymatic antioxidant levels, and is very effective in neutralizing free radicals.
Resveratrol is able to deeply penetrate a cell’s nucleus, promoting the ability of damaged DNA to repair itself. Resveratrol has excellent anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It also helps to even out skin tone and improves/brightens complexion.
Sources: Red wine (highest bioavailability), the skin of red grapes, grape juice, dark chocolate, peanuts, green tea
Selenium is a superstar trace mineral that many people don’t know about. In order for enzymatic antioxidants to function correctly and efficiently, the body requires minerals.
Selenium is an antioxidant, so it protects cells from oxidative damage. It also protects the skin from sun damage, increases the effectiveness of vitamin E, and protects the quality and elasticity of the skin.
Sources: Brazil nuts, eggs, wheat germ
Note: Brazil nuts are probably the best way to get your daily dose of selenium. Eating just two of them a day is all you need. They’re hard to find in stores, so your best bet is to order them online. Personally, I’m obsessed with NOW Foods Raw Brazil Nuts (CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE).