Air Pollution has been a hot topic in the news recently which has compelled me to write this piece on how we can limit the negative effects of toxins in our body, aid our defences to protect against disease and support our detox processes.
What are free radicals?
Environmental pollution today is a major concern to us all, we are under constant attack from millions of toxins, 24/7. Free radicals are the unstable molecules that are formed by our metabolism when we fight the toxins in our body. These have the ability to cause oxidative stress within our cells that can lead to damaged tissue in our bodies, premature ageing, hormone disruption and disease. Oxidative stress happens when the amount of free radicals exceeds the amount of antioxidants that we supply our body with resulting in damage to the mitrochondria and DNA of our cells.
Toxins are everywhere in the atmosphere, radiating from our wireless devices; from traffic pollution, electricity supplies; and chemicals in building materials. They are found in cosmetics, creams, lotions and potions that we rub into our skin, cigarette smoke, household cleaners, laundry soaps and pesticides. Fried and processed foods, sugar, alcohol and stress hormones also generate free radicals in the body, causing inflammation and oxidative stress. Little do we know of the silent battle we are constantly fighting within our cells.
How do you know if you have oxidative stress?
When we are not supporting our natural defences with good nutrition, including an abundance of antioxidants, these free radicals can have a low level and taxing effect on our bodily functions causing fatigue, inflammation, low mood, brain fog, muscle aches, poor digestion, ageing and our ability to eliminate toxins from the body. Oxidation increases when we are physically or emotionally stressed too but as long as you are supplying your body with enough antioxidants, a careful balance is maintained and damage can be prevented.
How to reduce oxidative stress
The obvious way to reduce oxidative stress is to limit our exposure to environmental toxins. Swapping our cleaning and laundry products for non toxic ones helps to reduce toxins in the home; switching off Wifi devices when they are not in use limits the EMF’s in our environment; taking long walks in the countryside and woods, away from traffic pollution, helps to detox our lungs; and by using only 100% natural skin care products will help nourish our skin cells from the outside-in as well as working with the defences of the skin.
By developing a Yoga or Meditation practice is a fabulous and effective way of helping to reduce stress in the body but that is a topic for another time!
Finally, I can’t emphasise enough just how important it is to load our body with antioxidants to help our crucial fight with inflammation and protect against disease. The two key players namely Vitamin C and Vitamin E.
Vitamin E and Vitamin C in synergy
Antioxidants are abundant in plant based foods, especially colourful fruits and vegetables. Two of the most powerful ones are Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Not only do these vitamins have individual roles to play within our cells but they complement each other too. Beautifully, these two vitamins work in conjunction, supporting each other’s antioxidant function. Vitamin C restores Vitamin E’s antioxidant function so that it can continue to protect the mitochondria in the cell from damage. Some would argue that we need to supplement with both of these antioxidants because despite our best efforts in trying to incorporate foods containing these vitamins into our diet on a daily basis, this still may not be enough ammunition to overcome our constant fight with free radicals.
Synergistic Benefits for Skin
It is easy to forget that our skin is one of the body’s first lines of defence and acts like a barrier against a chemical attack of pathogens or infection. Vitamins C and E have complementary roles to play in skin health. Both these nutrients play a vital role in protecting our skin cells from sun damage because they neutralize the free radicals generated during sun exposure. They work together to maintain healthy collagen, a protein important for skin strength as well as our bones & ligaments. Recent research suggests that having both vitamins in your skin helps to prevent sun damage better than Vitamin C or E on its own.
Which foods contain Vitamin C and Vitamin E?
Vitamin C is water soluble and found in a vast array of fruits and vegetables; the greatest source are the citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruits followed closely by fruits such as the kiwi, strawberries and dark leafy green vegetables.
Vitamin E is fat soluble and found in foods such as Avocado, raw nuts and seeds, sweet potatoes, broccoli & tomatoes.
Sneak citrus fruits into your cooking where ever possible by squeezing lemon or lime juice on fish or chicken. Think about making salad dressings with citrus juices combined with Extra Virgin Olive oil which contains Vitamin E. Load your plate with an array of colourful vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and red peppers, carrots, sweet potato and beetroots all of which contain different antioxidants.
Avocado is fantastic source of Vitamin E and combined with raw nuts and seeds makes for a fabulous thick and creamy smoothie. I have one of these most days combined with spinach and a little frozen banana! Avocados are so versatile that they can be included in desserts as well as savoury dishes.