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We’re in the middle of a chain reaction! Oxidative Stress and the Role of Antioxidants.

Antioxidants are magic ingredients for our health and our skin. They are our modern-day fountain of youth – just more actual and less mythical. Antioxidants neutralise free radicals and help to prevent oxidative stress, which causes inflammation and cell damage, and is linked to many chronic diseases. Now, I’m no molecular biology expert - far from it, but let me have a bash at trying to explain what this means and why it’s important.

What is oxidative stress?

Atoms function perfectly when surrounded by pairs of electrons, but if an electron loses its partner, the atom creates a free radical to go and steal an electron from another atom. If it was just one atom doing this it wouldn’t matter, in fact our immune cells produce free radicals to fight off invaders, but when we have too many free radicals, the bombardment causes damage to our cell’s DNA, membranes, lipids and proteins, and this is known as oxidative stress. Oxidative stress ultimately results in cell death, and this is known as oxidative damage.

Oxidative stress causes chronic inflammation, which results in further damage to our cells. This damaging inflammation has been highlighted as the cause of many chronic diseases, including heart disease, some cancers, brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune diseases, and it also causes skin ageing.

What causes oxidative stress?

Oxidative stress is caused by many internal and external factors, including our diet, UV radiation, smoking, stress, environmental toxins, including air pollution, BPA plastics and pesticides, lack of sleep, infections, and lack of exercise.

When it comes to oxidative stress from our diet, in a nutshell, high quantities of unsaturated fats, which are high in omega 6 fatty acids (including vegetable oil, sunflower, peanut, grapeseed and canola oils), cause chronic inflammation. I’ve written a separate blog about this, but what also causes problems is that when they’re heated, they oxidise and generate Advanced Lipid Oxidation End Products (ALEs), and these are really toxic. ALEs also deplete our levels of vitamins A, C and E. Not all omega 6 oils are harmful; we need some of them as part of a healthy diet, e.g. from avocados and nuts. The advice is to try to avoid or at least limit processed foods, don’t heat unsaturated fats, and use butter, olive oil and coconut oil to cook with.

How do antioxidants help and where do they come from?

Antioxidants actually help to neutralise oxidative stress by breaking the chemical chain reaction. Antioxidants, including polyphenols and vitamins A, C and E can be found in many foods, including green tea, olives, and all our other fruit and veg, and this is why were told to ‘eat the rainbow’ and eat our ‘5 a day’, or 10 as it is now. Grass-fed meats also contain antioxidants.

Super-antioxidants, including green tea and olives, contain polyphenols. Polyphenols, of which there are four types including bioflavonoids and resveratrol, lower chronic inflammation caused by oxidative stress. They also have anti-viral properties, help with cell growth and regeneration, help with allergies, and they also help to burn fat and aid weight loss.

It’s really hard to eat all the vitamins and nutrients we need on a daily basis, which is why people take nutritional supplements. I take an Omega 3 oil every day that contains polyphenols from cold-pressed olives. I also take a multivitamin and a prebiotic (please see my separate blogs about them).

What else can we do to prevent oxidative stress?

Meditation and yoga are really helpful when it comes to stress relief, as is regular exercise, which is beneficial in many other ways too. To sleep better try to stick to a regular sleep schedule. It’s also advised to try to avoid blue light from your phone, etc., at night, and to get plenty of sunlight in the day. Avoid pesticides by buying organic food if possible. Filter drinking water and use BPA-free plastic containers and water bottles, and treat infections, specifically tooth infections, quickly.

And what about our skin?

A well-known, well-documented cause of oxidative stress resulting in DNA damage, cancer and skin ageing is Ultra-Violet (UV) radiation. I could waffle on for ages, but it’s simple really: use a minimum SPF30 every-single-day. You can get vitamin D from your diet and supplements; my daily omega 3 oil has vitamin D in it. Fatty fish is a good source, and egg yolks and cheese have small amounts too, but ultimately, according to the experts, your body can make all the vitamin D you need from protected sun exposure, so please don’t risk it.

Topical antioxidants really help to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the skin, and are therefore very helpful in reducing the signs of aging, including lines and wrinkles and sun spots. Topical antioxidants also help to increase hydration, and make the skin look brighter, tighter and lighter! In the clinic I stock cosmeceutical skin care, which contains pharmaceutical-grade, botanically-derived, highly active ingredients. These products contain the highest and safest levels of antioxidants in skincare formulations. If you would like to have a chat about skincare, aesthetic treatments, supplements or anything I’ve discussed here, please get in touch.

Disclaimer: I am a nurse. However, I am not a nutritionist. The information written here is based on my knowledge gained from my own experience, professional courses and research. For detailed nutritional advice please get in touch and I will refer you to expert colleagues.

Hussain, T., et al., 2016. Oxidative Stress and Inflammation: What Polyphenols Can Do For Us. Hindawi. [Online] Available from:

Brewer, S., Polyphenols and Bioflavonoids in Food. [Online] Available from:

Balch, J. F., 1998. The Super Anti-oxidants: Why They Will Change the Face of Healthcare in the 21st Century. [Online] Available from:

Kresser, C., 2018. What Really Causes Oxidative Damage? [Online] Available from:

McNeill, A. M., Wesner, E., 2018. Sun Protection and Vitamin D. [Online]. Available from:

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