When the metabolism causes stress
Are you comfortable? Very good, because today it goes a little deeper. To shed light on the interplay of antioxidants, free radicals, and oxidative stress, we delve into our metabolic processes. Metabolism means not only the digestion of breakfast muesli, but all chemical and physical transformations of substances in the body. These processes run non-stop, everywhere.
They turn oxygen, fats, proteins, etc. into usable end products. This also produces intermediate products, including free radicals. These are aggressive little guys, but they definitely have their value. As part of the immune system, they vent their aggression on invaders. It becomes problematic when they get the upper hand. Then they wreak havoc on the body's own building blocks.
⚡️ Explained in a flash: If an unusually large number of free radicals attack your own body, this is called oxidative stress. The antioxidants counteract this, which is why they are also referred to as radical scavengers - so the circle closes.
What are free radicals anyway?
Free radicals are oxygen molecules, i.e. tiny compounds made up of several atoms that are not quite complete. You have an unpaired electron that is acutely looking for a partner. They are anything but choosy and just take the next best thing. However, individual electrons are not buzzing around happily. They are usually part of other molecules. That's why the free radical now goes on a raid.
The missing electron is simply torn out somewhere else. It makes no difference for the free radical whether a hostile virus, a fatty acid or a healthy body cell is the victim falls. The attacked molecule in turn releases its own free radicals. This triggers a chain reaction that will get out of hand if no countermeasures are taken. If these aggressive oxygen molecules get the upper hand, we therefore speak of oxidative stress.
How does oxidative stress affect the skin?
Nowadays our skin is exposed to free radicals almost non-stop, unfortunately. As a result, oxidative stress wreaks havoc from the outer protective barrier to the lower layers of the skin. It accelerates skin aging and promotes skin diseases.
☠️ Cell death: When free radicals tear electrons from the membrane of healthy skin cells, this can change cell metabolism and destroy the cell from the inside.
🥑 Lipids: They attack lipids that are urgently needed for the protective function of the skin.Without sufficient replenishment, the skin barrier cannot regenerate effectively
🥚 Proteins: Oxidative stress leads to the breakdown of keratin, elastin and collagen. Without these "space-giving" proteins, the skin loses its fullness and elasticity.
🩺 Diseases: Oxidative stress also triggers metabolic reactions outside the cells, which can trigger skin diseases.
In short, it damages your skin in several ways: It hinders regeneration, destroys healthy cells and sets degenerative processes in motion. But when and why does this stress take over?
Which creates a particularly large number of free radicals
Free radicals are normal metabolites formed by the body itself. However, this production can be greatly accelerated by external influences. This is especially true when the body has to neutralize pollutants, for example from the air or cigarette smoke. According to the health encyclopedia, around a hundred times more free radicals are produced when you breathe in your lungs than you have in your body cells. And when the tar is detoxified, more are formed. Smoker's skin is not proverbial for nothing.
But other factors also increase the formation of free radicals. The most important are:
- UV radiation
Psychological stress (see also: How does stress affect my skin?)
- competitive sport
Pesticides, heavy metals, etc. that we absorb through food
But also medication
Of course we have to eat, we want to see the sun, and if you need medication, please don't stop because of the free radicals! I certainly don't want to advise you not to exercise. The only important thing here is a healthy amount, so start slowly, don't overstrain yourself and combine training with a healthy diet - more on that below.
⚖️ Conclusion: With these factors, pay particular attention to balance oxidative stress with antioxidants.
What are antioxidants then?
Every story needs a hero and here it's antioxidants. We enter the scene: Oxidative stress is taking over. Healthy cells and molecules are surrounded by free radicals. They are after their electrons, without which they cannot function. But here comes salvation! Antioxidants join the fray and mend the free radicals by donating their own electrons. This is de-escalation at the molecular level.
Radical scavengers separate from part of their own structure. They are constructed in such a way that this is particularly easy to do. So free radicals find easier prey in them than in, to put it bluntly, more tightly knitted molecules.
There is another special feature: While normal molecules are radicalized themselves after having stolen their electrons, antioxidants remain functional. So they also stop the destructive chain reaction.
☝️ The scavengers voluntarily share their electrons with the broken molecule and interrupt the chain reaction of oxidative stress.
Where do you get antioxidants from?
Food is a very important source of antioxidants.Many of these are vitamins, especially vitamins C and E. But they also include plant pigments such as carotenoids. Radical scavengers are therefore particularly abundant in fresh fruit and vegetables. Some berries in particular are packed with antioxidants. The blueberry has rightly earned its place as a local superfood.
Since many vitamins are destroyed during cooking, fresh, raw fruits are good suppliers. If you process them, for example into a smoothie, you shouldn't let it sit around for too long. Because some vitamins, including vitamin C, are water-soluble.
🍋 In any case, it is better to eat fresh and healthy than to swallow dietary supplements and vitamin tablets. According to the consumer center, research assumes that the isolated active ingredients in such preparations tend to have a counterproductive effect.