What causes ageing?
Ageing is a natural part of life. Over time, our bodies change to meet demands and eventually, our machinery can become less efficient at doing what it’s made to do. Across our lifespan, this process is normal.
A variety of environmental and lifestyle factors can contribute to ageing, perhaps sooner than is natural. These include extreme exposure to the sun, internal and external stress, smoking, and pollution. All these factors can ramp up the ageing process in our bodies, due to the presence of what’s known as "free radicals."
What are free radicals?
Free radicals are the common term for a group of chemicals known more correctly as reactive oxygen species (ROS). They're also sometimes broadly known as oxidants and, if unchecked, are unstable molecules that can damage cells in the body. They're created when oxygen, nitrogen or hydrogen (among other chemicals) interacts with cell structures and other molecules.
In small amounts, the formation of free radical compounds is a natural by-product of metabolism. Yet, it can also be caused by environmental factors like pollution and smoking. Free radicals are also thought to play a role in the development of age-related conditions such as arthritis, cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's disease.
Some examples of reactive species include:
- Superoxide radical
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Hydroxyl radical
- Carbon-centred alkyl radicals
While some free radicals are necessary for fighting infection and tissue repair, too many circulating free radicals in the body can lead to inflammation and disease progression. This is where the protective actions of antioxidants are an important part of our health.
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are molecules that help stabilise free radicals. They literally scavenge, quench and neutralise these inflammatory molecules, which then helps prevent cell and DNA damage. Ultimately, having a balance of antioxidant compounds can help protect against premature cell ageing, which assists in keeping the body healthy and looking young.
Antioxidants have many protective functions in the body, including:
- Prevents the breakdown of unsaturated lipids in cell membranes (lipid peroxidation)
- Inhibits the oxidation of cell tissues
- Reduces LDL oxidation in the blood, which prevents atherosclerosis and heart disease
Some antioxidants can be made in the body via a regenerative process called the redox pathway. Here's a list of some well-known antioxidants. All of these are made in the body and derived in the diet, with the exception of carotenoids. Carotenoids are found in food only.
- Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
- Vitamin A (retinoic acid)
- Vitamin E (tocopherols)
- Beta-carotene, Lycopene, Lutein (Carotenoids)
- Co-Enzyme Q10 (Ubiquinol)
- Lipoic acid
Other than reducing your exposure to free radical damage, there are ways to protect yourself against the harmful effects of these compounds. One of the best and easiest ways is to eat plenty of antioxidant-rich foods.
Here are seven of the best anti-ageing foods that are rich in antioxidant compounds to help you look and feel young.
Blueberries are loaded with antioxidants, which help protect our cells from damage. Blueberries are arguably the healthiest of all berries. These little berries contain anti-inflammatory compounds and are a top source of anthocyanins and flavonoids. Blueberries are also naturally high in Vitamin C, which is ideal for skin health. In addition, blueberries promote a healthy gut by providing prebiotic fibre.
Their high antioxidant content helps fight free radicals, which can damage cells and cause ageing. Blueberries have plenty of research to support their benefits on the circulatory system, and their anthocyanin content can help improve memory and cognitive function. If you want improved brain health, skin health and want to fight signs of ageing, blueberries are a must-do in your daily diet.
Tomatoes are another great source of antioxidants, making them a wonderful anti-ageing food. Tomatoes contain lycopene, a compound that has been shown to protect against prostate and other types of cancer. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage by neutralising harmful singlet oxygen free radicals.
Tomatoes also contain vitamin C to maintain healthy tissues and skin. The nutrients in tomatoes also help improve our cardiovascular health by reducing inflammation and LDL cholesterol levels. Looking after your heart and vascular system is an important part of staying fit, young and healthy. There’s plenty you can do to keep your heart healthy, such as taking up moderate exercise and staying hydrated. And yes, enjoy a daily dose of tomatoes too!
Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for strong cell membranes. These fatty acids also have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce the risk of chronic age-related diseases including heart disease and arthritis. Broadly, DHA found in salmon is cardioprotective and neuroprotective, which means it benefits both the heart and brain.
Research has also shown that the healthy fats found in salmon protect against cancer, support the immune system and have anti-diabetic properties. Salmon is also a good source of quality protein, which is necessary for maintaining muscle mass as we age.
This leafy green food is a nutrient-rich powerhouse when it comes to health, as well as looking and feeling young. It is a rich source of antioxidants, which help to fight free radicals that can damage cells and contribute to the ageing process. These days, spinach is widely available everywhere and is an incredibly versatile ingredient to use in cooking.
Spinach offers numerous anti-ageing benefits. Spinach has antioxidant compounds, including vitamins A, C and E, which help protect our cells from damage. Vitamin C is also essential for collagen production, which helps give skin a youthful radiance. Spinach also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which are part of the carotenoid family of phytochemical compounds. These chemicals help improve eye function which is an aspect of health that commonly declines with age.
Plus, spinach is a good source of the important B vitamin - folate, which is necessary for DNA repair and cell function. All these nutrients found in spinach are vital for keeping the body healthy and preventing the effects of premature ageing.
What else is there to discover about nuts? They tick almost every nutritional box you could imagine. Nuts are an excellent source of healthy fats, protein, and - wouldn’t you know it, antioxidants. The polyphenolic compounds in nuts can help reduce inflammation, support brain health and reduce the impacts of ageing.
Nuts are also a great source of magnesium, a mineral that is essential for bone health. Maintaining bone density is paramount as we age. Other important minerals found in nuts contribute to their immunoprotective effects, which also help fight free radical compounds.
Most nuts are rich in manganese, copper and selenium. However, Brazil nuts are the richest food source of selenium on the planet. Selenium helps promote a healthy immune system and plays a role in thyroid function. Selenium is also an essential cofactor nutrient for a powerful antioxidant in the body called glutathione. Glutathione is the body’s most abundant antioxidant, with levels highest in the brain and lungs, as this is where many opportunities for oxidative damage can occur.
Olive oil is a type of vegetable oil that is derived from olives. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, which as we’ve discussed, are considered healthy fats.
Alongside improving cholesterol levels, reducing inflammation, and protecting against heart disease, olive oil is very high in plant antioxidants. These compounds help protect our cells from damage.
Olive oil is an all-around favourite anti-ageing food. It's one of the most commonly used cooking oils and has a long history of use in Mediterranean cuisine. As we age, we have a higher need for the antioxidant defence system in our body. Yet, as we age we also have a reduced capacity to make these compounds. According to recent research, Mediterranean foods like olive oil have demonstrated protective effects against memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s in elderly populations. This is even more reason why it’s important to use food as medicine and boost our antioxidant intake to help slow the effects of ageing. Including olive oil in the diet is a fantastic way to stay young and feel vibrant.
You know it, dark chocolate is an anti-ageing superfood. Dark chocolate is absolutely full of antioxidants that can help improve heart health, reduce inflammation, and protect against cellular damage.
Dark chocolate also contains flavonoids, which are plant compounds that have been shown to support brain health. Just be sure to choose dark chocolate with a high cocoa content for the most anti-ageing benefits.
Cacao has plenty of research backing its health benefits, thanks to its high flavonol content. Flavonol is a plant antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Other noteworthy polyphenols found in cacao and dark chocolate are theobromine, catechins, epigallocatechins (EGCG) and proanthocyanidins.
All of this amounts to a delicious, superstar antioxidant food. Dark chocolate can help improve blood flow, reduce blood pressure and is also linked to improvements in sleep. A scientific study from 2021 found that chocolate intake had profound effects on sleep quality in a small trial group. The results showed that night-time consumption of chocolate improved the duration and onset of sleep.
Getting enough sleep is an undervalued, yet critically important aspect of looking and feeling young. Sleep is where your body repairs and restores itself, so striving for good quality sleep is a great way to fight the effects of ageing. If dark chocolate consumption helps get you there, all the better!
Anti-Ageing Foods: Antioxidant-Rich for a Youthful Life
These wonderful foods are a great way to keep your cells nourished, your skin glowing and your body energised. And of course, all these foods are packed with antioxidants, which help neutralise excess free radicals that can contribute to early ageing. These wonderful foods are beneficial for all body systems, and can help keep you looking and feeling youthful for years to come!
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