Most people have probably heard of the term ‘free radicals’, but what exactly are they? Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules with one electron instead of two. They invade the body in a desperate search for other molecules to attack and steal one of their electrons, leaving the healthy cells damaged and creating more free radicals. Free radicals injure cell membranes, affecting the delivery of nutrients and the removal of toxins, and break down the power houses of cells which prevents them from producing enough energy to function properly and make collagen. High exposure to free radicals can alter DNA, causing mutations and uncontrolled cell damage that has been linked to cancer and other illnesses, and also ageing.
It is impossible to avoid free radicals completely since they are found in the environment – in the sun’s rays, pollution, computers and cigarette smoke. Alcohol and food additives are filled with free radical forming compounds. Animal products are also abundant in free radical forming fats and may contain pesticides, herbicides and other toxins.
It is possible, however, to protect your body by consuming antioxidants, substances which interact with free radicals and give up an electron to stabilise the scavengers so that they no longer steal from healthy cells. Fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and pulses are packed with antioxidants and are virtually devoid of free radical forming compounds, so ensure your diet contains plenty of these foods. To give your skin a boost, look for products containing vitamins A, C and E, and always wear a high SPF when out in the sun.
Some essential oils have been found to possess antioxidant activity; the most effective oils include thyme, laurel, basil, cinnamon, clove, vetiver and rose¹. An aromatherapy massage using these oils may help to give your antioxidant levels a boost. However, if you are unable to visit an aromatherapist, always seek professional advice before using oils at home.
¹Saleh, M., Clark, S., Woodward, B., Delou-Sobogun, S., 2010, Antioxidant and Free Radical Scavenging Activities of Essential Oils, Ethnicity Disease, 20; 1, 78-82