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Free Radicals and Antioxidants

Free Radicals

Many of our products at Lotus Blossom contain botanical extracts and vitamins that are antioxidants. You might ask why we add antioxidants to our products and why we use more than one? To answer these questions we first have to understand what free radicals are and how antioxidants reduce their harmful effects.

What are free radicals?

In 1956 Denham Harmon M.D., Ph.D. had an epiphany that led to the free-radical theory of aging. Hereís the gist.

As you may recall from your high school chemistry, atoms have a core (the nucleus) made of protons and neutrons, around which orbit a bunch of electrons. The number of protons is the determinant for each type of atom. For example, one proton in hydrogen and eight protons in oxygen. An atom does not necessarily have the same number of electrons as protons, but if these numbers don't match then the atom will have an electrical charge, in which case we call it an ion.

Atoms bond together to form molecules. For example, an oxygen atom joins with two hydrogen atoms to make water (H2O). Atoms are joined when each atom shares one of its valence electrons with its partner in a covalent bond, i.e. the two atoms get close enough together so two of their electrons (one from each atom) orbit around both atoms. In the water example each hydrogen atom shares its only electron with the oxygen atom, and the oxygen atom shares two of its eight electrons, one with each hydrogen atom.

These covalent bonds can break, and when they do the atoms leave the molecule to find other atoms to make new molecules. Usually, when a molecule splits, each of the resulting parts takes an even number of electrons with it, even if that means taking away the valence electron from its former partner, or vice-versa. However, in the case of homolytic cleavage, each of the resulting parts has an odd number of electrons.

An atom or molecule with an odd number of electrons is called a free radical, and it is highly reactive - i.e. it wants to achieve stability by either giving up (called reduction) or stealing an electron (called oxidation). To get the electron it needs the free radical typically steals an electron from a covalent bond in its nearest neighbor. That neighbor now has an odd number of electrons making it a free radical, so it steals an electron from its nearest neighbor, etc., in a chain reaction that only ends when it eventually reaches an atom or molecule with an extra electron.

This chain reaction damages the molecules. While all bio-molecules are susceptible, lipids, proteins and DNA are the most susceptible. The resulting oxidative damage is cumulative, building up year after year until we see the clear signs of aging in our bodies. This age-related free radical damage leads to wrinkled skin, weaker eyes, and boosts the risk of nearly every degenerative disease including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimerís, and diabetes.

Are all free radicals bad?

Not all free radicals are equally reactive. Some are quite stable and have relatively long lifetimes; others are only moderately reactive and have lifetimes of five or so seconds; while the highly reactive free radicals may last only a hundredth of a microsecond. The free radicals of special interest in aging are the highly reactive oxygen free radicals. Also of interest are pro-oxidants that contribute to the production of oxygen free radicals. The term reactive oxygen species (ROS) is used to refer collectively to pro-oxidants and oxygen free radicals.

Free radicals are a natural intermediary product essential to converting food into energy. Also, free radicals are created by white blood cells to damage microbes before ingesting them. Free radicals are a necessity for life. To prevent damage, the healthy body maintains a supply of antioxidants to keep the level of free radicals, and in particular ROS, in check. However, an excess of ROS is the cause of concern.


What are antioxidants?

antioxidants are a broad group of compounds that destroy free radicals. They work in several ways: they can reduce the energy of the free radical; stop oxygen free radicals from forming in the first place by neutralizing the oxidants that help create them; or interrupt an oxidizing chain reaction to minimize the damage caused by free radicals.

Because they eliminate harmful free radicals before they can cause any damage, antioxidants are essential to good health. They are found naturally in a wide variety of foods and plants, including many fruits and vegetables. Many antioxidants, either singly or in combination, are also available as over-the-counter nutritional supplements in tablet or capsule form. The most commonly used antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene. Others include grape seed extract, vitamin A, selenium, and coenzyme Q10.

Scientific studies have validated the role of antioxidants in preventing many diseases. Multiple epidemiological studies have shown lower rates of cancer and heart disease in people who eat a recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Many herbs and medicinal plants are also good natural sources of antioxidants. These include carrots, tomatoes, yams, leafy greens, blueberries, bilberries, ginkgo biloba, garlic, and green tea, to name a few. Recent evidence suggests that vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene reduce the risk of some cancers, heart disease, cataracts, and strokes.

Why use more than one type of antioxidant?

A number of important studies have concluded that combinations of many different antioxidants are far better free radical fighters than either one or two individual antioxidants because they work in synergy. For example, a 2003 study reported in the journal Circulation showed that a combination of natural vitamin E and vitamin C significantly slowed the development of cardiovascular disease over a six year period. Whatís more, the dosages were modest (136 IU vitamin E and 250 mg vitamin C) when compared to the mega doses that Americans frequently take. Similar studies have found that combinations of antioxidants reduce the risk of eye disease, Alzheimerís, and many other conditions.

There are many types of free radicals and some antioxidants are better at destroying them than others. One reason is that certain free radicals are present in different tissues, and one ant-oxidant is more able to penetrate that tissues than another antioxidant, and therefore more able to reach the free radical to neutralize it. Another reason is that one antioxidant can combine more easily with a specific free radical than another. This specificity of antioxidants, plus the evidence that combinations of antioxidants work synergistically, recommends using multiple sources of antioxidants and sources having more than one type of antioxidant.

Why do we enrich our skin care products with antioxidants?

Free radicals are produced when you metabolize food for energy, fight infections, and break down toxins and drugs. However, they are also found in air pollution and cigarette smoke, and produced when skin is exposed to the sun, so antioxidants can improve your health inside and out. Because some antioxidants work better than others against specific free radicals, and because multiple antioxidants work together synergistically, we enrich our products with multiple sources of antioxidants.

Some antioxidant sources we use in our products

Olive Leaf Extract

Olive leaf extract is exceptionally rich in antioxidants. Specifically, it contains bioflavonoids and polyphenols that have antioxidant qualities and function as free radical scavengers.

Raspberry Seed Extract (total CO2 process)

Raspberry seed extract is an excellent antioxidant and free radical scavenger. It is rich in essential fatty acids and contains gamma-tocopherol in active free form, which is a more active radical scavenger than alpha-tocopherol. This extract is recommended for mature skin.

Green Tea Extract

Green Tea extract is made from the leaves of the evergreen shrub Camellia Sinensis. Green Tea has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and astringent qualities. Green Tea extract is a bioflavonoid rich, potent extract used primarily for fighting free radicals. It contains a high content of polyphenols, which are a class of bioflavonoids. Green Tea extract contains the potent antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is over 200 times more powerful than vitamin E in neutralizing ROS.

White Peony Tea Extract

White Peony Tea extract, like Green Tea extract, is also made from the leaves of the evergreen shrub, Camellia Sinensis. Camellia Sinensis has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and astringent qualities. The basic difference between Green and White Tea is in their harvesting and processing. More buds than leaves are harvested to make White Tea, and the harvesting conditions are quite specific and controlled. The constituents found in White Tea are similar to those found in Green Tea, but some research indicates that White Tea has even higher levels and different proportions of the beneficial class of phytochemicals, polyphenols like EGCG. White Tea extract is excellent for both skin and hair care.

Vitamin A Retinyl Palmitate

Retinal, Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate are all sources of Vitamin A. Vitamin A Retinyl Palmitate, also known as Vitamin A Palmitate, is considered a more stable alternative to Retinal for normalizing the skinís texture and helping smooth out fine lines. Retinyl Palmitate is the ester of Retinol combined with Palmitic Acid, and is thought to be less irritating than Retinol. Vitamin A is an antioxidant that helps rejuvenate the skin by improving the texture and blood supply of the deeper collagen fibers. Like other antioxidants, Vitamin A is helpful in reversing the damage caused by toxins like cigarette smoke and by irradiation from the sun. Vitamin A also helps thicken the skin, which improves fine wrinkling.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C has been found to be a powerful antioxidant and skin brightener. It is a potent promoter of collagen synthesis, thereby improving the elasticity of the skin. It also promotes cell growth and division, thereby helping the process by which the skin repairs itself.

Vitamin E Tocopheryl Acetate

Vitamin E Tocopheryl Acetate, also known as dl-Alpha-Tocopherol, is the ester of Tocopherol and Acetic Acid. Vitamin E Acetate has been shown to be readily absorbed through the skin to exert a number of cosmetic benefits. It moisturizes the skin to improve the softness and smoothness of dry, rough or damaged skin. It protects cells by scavenging free radicals and inhibiting the peroxidation of lipids generated by UV radiation. It also acts as an antioxidant to prevent rancidity of the fats and oils in cosmetic formulations.


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