We have all heard of antioxidants, but have we heard of the mother of all antioxidants? One that is the secret to prevent cancer, heart disease, aging, neurological issues and more? This single antioxidant has been studied in great depth yet most of us know nothing about it and many doctors have no idea how to address the epidemic of its deficiency in humans.
You already know that your skin — like the rest of your body — benefits from the work of antioxidants: They help fight free radicals, unstable compounds that attack cells and cause wrinkles, dull skin, and even skin cancer. But with so many on the market, how do you know which antioxidants work the hardest to help your skin stay smooth and young? The good news is, there’s no reason to limit yourself to just one.
The generation of free radicals increases by:
• Excess consumption of processed or refined foods
• Increased consumption of meat and other animal products
• Decreased consumption of natural foods
• Strenuous exercise
Composed of glutamic acid, cysteine, and glycine, this little protein is found in all animal tissues, is one of your body’s main antioxidants and is very decreased in the skin after skin exposure.
1. Try bioactive whey protein. This is great source of cysteine and the amino acid building blocks for glutathione synthesis. As you know, I am not a big fan of dairy, but this is an exception — with a few warnings. The whey protein must be bio-active and made from non-denatured proteins. Choose non-pasteurized and non-industrially produced milk that contains no pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics. Immunocal is a prescription bioactive non-denatured whey protein that is even listed in the Physician’s Desk Reference.
2. Consume sulfur-rich foods. The main ones in the diet are garlic, onions and the cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, cauliflower, watercress, etc.).
3. Exercise boosts your glutathione levels and thereby helps boost your immune system, improve detoxification and enhance your body’s own antioxidant defenses. Start slow and build up to 30 minutes a day of vigorous aerobic exercise like walking or jogging, or play various sports. Strength training for 20 minutes 3 times a week is also helpful.
One would think it would be easy just to take glutathione as a pill, but the body digests protein, so you wouldn’t get the benefits if you did it this way. However, the production and recycling of glutathione in the body requires many different nutrients and you can take these. Here are the main supplements that need to be taken consistently to boost glutathione. Besides taking a multivitamin and fish oil, supporting my glutathione levels with these supplements is the most important thing I do every day for my personal health.
4. Alpha lipoic acid. This is a close second to glutathione in importance in our cells and is involved in energy production, blood sugar control, brain health and detoxification. The body usually makes it, but given all the stresses we are under, we often become depleted.
5. Methylation nutrients (folate and vitamins B6 and B12). These are perhaps the most critical to keep the body producing glutathione. Methylation and the production and recycling of glutathione are the two most important biochemical functions in your body. Take folate (especially in the active form of 5 methyltetrahydrofolate), B6 (in active form of P5P) and B12 (in the active form of methylcobalamin).
6. Selenium. This important mineral helps the body recycle and produce more glutathione.
7. A family of antioxidants including vitamins C and E (in the form of mixed tocopherols), work together to recycle glutathione.
8. Milk thistle (silymarin) has long been used in liver disease and helps boost glutathione levels.
Green tea extracts are derived from the Camelliasinensis plant; you may also want to drink tea brewed from the plant for internal benefits. Green tea contains a number of powerful polyphenols, one of which — epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)— it contains in large quantities.
Research has shown that when EGCG is applied before or immediately after UV exposure, it helps correct cellular changes caused by damaging UV rays. It can also quench hydrogen peroxide radicals and cause carcinogenic skin cells to degrade.
Idebenone(pronounced E-d-buh-known) is a more stable relative of the antioxidantcoenzyme Q10.
Idebenone penetrates better than coenzyme Q10 and offers more protection from the oxidation caused by free radicals. It also protects skin cells from the damaging effects of UVB rays.
Be sure to do a patch test before committing to regular use of a product containing idebenone; about 1 out of 10 people has an allergic reaction to the antioxidant.
This oldie-but-goodie antioxidant is a polyphenolic compound found in grapes, berries, cocoa, and even peanuts.
Studies show that resveratrol confers great benefits when applied topically. When you apply resveratrol before sun exposure, it reduces the production of damaging free radicals and other sun-related skin damage. It also helps retard the development and growth of skin cancer tumors.
Vitamin C has been given credit for all sorts of miracles, proven and unproven. It is a potent antioxidant and a necessary component of tissue collagen production. Again, we are advised that normal diets, including citrus fruit, provide adequate vitamin C. Over the years scientists and clinicians have waffled over claims for the ability of vitamin C to prevent colds and lessen the length of time that symptoms persist. It is generally believed that these qualities are overstated or wrong. One study did show vitamin C to be effective in preventing cold symptoms in 50% of marathon runners tested but only a tiny percentage of the general population. Since I’m so set against subjecting one’s body to marathon running, I nearly opted to leave that bit of information out. The significance of all this is confusing.
Antioxidants such as vitamin C are key players in the prevention of cholesterol plaques forming in the arteries and are generally necessary for sustained good health. The importance of vitamin C is well-known for its role in the healing of wounds and maintenance of the integrity of tissues. It is important in collagen synthesis, and its absence causes the disease scurvy, which results in tissue breakdown and open wounds.
Vitamin C has also been shown to be a powerful antioxidant when applied to the skin. This is where real progress is being made. Free radicals derived from metabolic processes interfere with the production and maintenance of collagen in the skin. When collagen fibers are inadequate in number or misaligned, the skin structure breaks down and loss of elasticity and wrinkling result. Vitamin C protects the collagen in the skin and is necessary for new collagen production and wound healing. Free radicals from the environment have also been said to enter the skin and cause tissue damage. The function of the skin is to keep the outside environment outside. That’s how it works. And the difficulty in getting topical vitamin C into the skin illustrates that fact. But mechanisms aside, vitamin C applied to the skin can work if it can get into the skin in sufficient quantities.
Along with the knowledge of the destructive capability of free radicals is the knowledge that they are products of normal metabolism and are neutralized by antioxidants. These antioxidants are either enzymes within the body systems or antioxidants derived from the diet. The diet-derived group includes vitamin E (tocopherol), vitamin C (ascorbic acid), carotenes (vitamin A), and many others. Vitamins C and E are among the major nonenzymatic antioxidants that protect skin from the adverse effects of aging and sun damage, and for this purpose, topical application seems far more effective than oral supplements. We don’t yet know how much is optimal for this function, but we are discovering how to most effectively deliver it to the skin. The fat-soluble vitamin E molecule is too large to penetrate the skin and significantly raise circulating levels, but application of vitamin E to the skin has consistently shown the ability to retard the inflammation from sun exposure and UVB damage and, in fact, reverse the sun damage. There is also a great deal of evidence that vitamins C and E are enhanced in their antioxidant function when applied together. Current conservative advice is that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables should be adequate for normal healthy adults. Daily oral supplements of vitamin E have long been recommended but have fallen into scientific disfavor due to conflicting reports. Some studies claim it promotes cardiac health; others contradict the findings. A 2009 study indicated that most basic studies were universally flawed and suggested that larger (and perhaps larger than tolerated) doses might be necessary to be effective.
Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in the brain and is known to influence the circadian rhythms of the body: sleeping at night, being awake during the day. It has also been recognized as among the most powerful of antioxidants. The ability of melatonin to eliminate free-radical contamination in cellular function has been repeatedly demonstrated. And as noted above, it is very effective as a topical antioxidant in its synergetic action with vitamins C and E. The ability of melatonin to help drive vitamin C into the skin and its anti-inflammatory action have made it a very important ingredient in skin-care products. The combination of vitamin C, vitamin E and melatonin represents the most truly effective way to get enough of these antioxidants into the skin to impede collagen destruction, encourage collagen production, reduce facial wrinkles and undo sun damage.
Long used to help protect the skin in creams and lotion, allantoin was thought to be a skin protectant. It has been called a “cell proliferant, epithelization stimulant, and a chemical debrider.” Basically, it helps to exfoliate and stimulate new skin growth.
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)
ALA is unique, as it is soluble in both water and lipids, so it easily penetrates into the skin. It seems to help protects Vitamins E and C, helping to boost their activity within the cell by “reenergizing” them. It is also converted in the skin into another chemical that has it’s own antioxidant properties.
Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is a fatty acid that is naturally found inside every cell in the body. It is necessary to produce energy for the body’s everyday functions as it converts glucose into energy. ALA is also an antioxidant that works in both water and fat, unlike some other antioxidants. It can also recycle antioxidants such as vitamin C and glutathione after they have been used up by the body. Glutathione is an important antioxidant and ALA increases the formation of glutathione. It also enhances the antioxidant functions of vitamins C and E.
ALA directly supports detoxification within the liver. It can prevent cell damage, regulate blood sugar levels, chelate toxic metals from the blood, and enhance mental function and muscular energy production.
Sources for ALA include the following:
• naturally made in the body
• Brewer’s yeast
• Brussels sprouts
• rice bran
• organ meats
Grape and Grape Seed Extract
Proanthocyanidin, a very powerful antioxidant is found in grapes and grape seed extracts. While this antioxidant doesn’t have strong evidence that it works topically (really, most of these things I’m listing don’t have much evidence anyways), it was found to have strong effects on free radical damage of fat cells especially, as well as improved wound healing and prevention of tumors (both in mice).
An alcohol derivative of Vitamin B5, Panthenol is actually a humectant (see, it’s here in my moisturizer post), and is very easily found in moisturizer, shampoo, conditioner, etc. Once it’s in the skin, it get converted to an acid that is an important cofactor for Coenzyme A, allowing your skin to function normallly. It’s pretty stable, but doesn’t do well in acidic or basic environments or high heat.