Most of us know that anti-oxidant vitamins like A, C and E are our best defenses against free radicals – the rogue oxygen molecules known to cause wrinkling, sagging, artery damage and even cancer. But where do these free radicals come from in the first place?
They are like sparks thrown off from a fire and they’re the natural results of living, metabolizing our food and breathing.
Clearly, we can’t stop breathing or eating to cut down free radicals—but surprisingly, fascinating scientific research shows we CAN do other things to limit the quantity of free radicals we produce — and make sure the anti-oxidants we do get have the best opportunity to protect us. In short, you can put out the free radical fire by depriving it of fuel by:
1. Staying away from all kinds of smoke: If you smoke, quit. This is the number one way to cut free radical production. Stopping smoking goes without saying, since it cause a huge range of health problems. But many of us may not realize we increase our risk of heart disease by 50% just by regularly being around someone who is smoking.
Other kinds of smoke are just as harmful: If you use a wood stove or wood-burning fireplace for heat, you’re increasing your free radical production, as you are if you spend a significant amount of time around any kind of fires or grills, as restaurant workers do.
2. Steam, don’t fry: Heating oils – including the fats in meat and fish — to high temperatures, by frying or especially by barbecuing, increases the numbers of cancer-causing chemical compounds called nitrosamines. Cured meats like bacon and ham have high levels of related compounds called nitrates, also known to cause cancer.
In fact, a National Institutes of Health study showed that people who ate diets high in nitrosamines and nitrates more than doubled their risk of certain types of cancer. Steaming, baking or poaching all forms of protein (including tofu and eggs) is your best bet, says Applegate. You’ll get additional protection from free radical production if you keep all oils and nuts in the refrigerator to prevent them from turning rancid and producing more nitrosamines.
3. Go easy on exercise: Believe it or not, exercise increases free radical production – but your body can usually neutralize the amount that is made and convert it to healthy benefits – unless you exercise to the point of exhaustion. Numerous American and European studies show that free-radical formation can double after an exhausting run.
Moderate exercise is best – not more than 90% of your maximum heart rate. We all need to exercise regularly and you’ll keep free radicals in check by pumping up your consumption of anti-oxidant laden leafy greens, citrus fruits and carrots. You might also consider taking vitamin C and E supplements if you regularly engage in strenuous exercise.
4. Get below 20%: A new study from the State University of New York at Buffalo shows that people who are 20% or more above their ideal body weight generate disease-causing free radicals at a rate equal to that of diabetics, whose high blood sugar levels trigger an overabundance of these artery-damaging compounds.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables busts free radicals, keeps weight under control, and promotes a long, healthy life.
5. Watch your exposure: You can easily control your exposure to two major causes of free radical production: ultraviolet rays of the sun and air pollution. We need sun exposure to manufacture vitamin D, which has excellent anti=-cancer properties, but it’s a fine line between just right and too much. Look for a hihg quality natural sunscreen without thew carcinogens prevaelnt in most commercial varieities.
And, if you can, move away from places with heavy air pollution. If you live in Los Angeles and can move closer to the ocean, the pollution levels will be lower, even if your poc ketbook is lighter. Wherever you lie, avoid heavy exercise on days when air pollution levels are high.