What if we never had to get old? It’s a tantalizing thought, and one that keeps plenty of researchers looking feverishly for ways to stop the march of time. One theory on why we age is oxidative damage to tissues in the body. Free radicals, those party poopers, can alter the membrane of a cell and affect DNA production or protein synthesis. They can also damage the skin and collagen, speeding wrinkling, and contribute to the hardening of your blood vessels, increasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Sunlight, smoking, radiation, and other environmental factors can also produce free radicals, and as we age, the body’s ability to neutralize them is reduced.
You can tell how old you are in oxidative terms by how you feel. If you’re out of energy, your joints hurt, and you feel stiff, then you’re probably a lot older than that number on your birth certificate, unless you’re in your 80s. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Antioxidants work to quench that active energy from free radicals so you don’t have as much oxidation or aging. Combine careful eating with large amounts of antioxidants, and you’ll raise your odds of living a long and healthy life.
Slow Aging with Antioxidants
Antioxidants are the closest thing we have to the Fountain of Youth, the key to living long and well. Essentially, antioxidants are our first line of defense. Think of them as toy soldiers on a battlefield. Their “job” is to prevent unstable molecules called free radicals, byproducts of our energy metabolism, from damaging our cells and DNA. If we don’t have enough soldiers on the battlefield, we can be prone to diseases of aging like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. When we eat foods that are high in antioxidants like fruits and vegetables, we have a better defense against the diseases that can come with getting older.
Antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamin A with beta carotene, vitamins E and C, and coenzyme Q10, protect against the development of heart disease, cancer, and other chronic degenerative diseases; help minimize oxidative damage; and are key to slowing the aging process and keeping you young and vital.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble antioxidant, which means it’s easily absorbed by the body, although it can’t be stored. This means you need to eat fruits and vegetables with vitamin C every day to benefit from this antioxidant. Top food sources include mangoes, sweet potatoes, black currants, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, lemons, oranges, spinach, and peas.
You can name vitamin E for “excellent” when it comes to keeping you young. Recently, Yale researchers found that Tuscan residents 65 years and older who ingested foods with vitamin E on a daily basis had better physical functioning. The thinking is that this has to do with antioxidants, which prevent muscle or DNA damage, which can lead to the development of atherosclerosis and other conditions.
The study, which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reported that participants got their vitamin E through the diet, approximately 15 mg a day of alpha-tocopherol, a component of vitamin E. This is roughly equal to the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for men and women 14 years and older. Foods you may want to choose to add vitamin E to your diet include almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower oil and seeds, olive oil, spinach, broccoli, and tomato sauce. Vitamin C works synergistically with vitamin E by recycling oxidized vitamin E, further boosting its antioxidant benefits.