The Pinch Test
We are constantly being bombarded by free radicals, both from external and dietary sources. If you want to know how much your body has already been affected by free radicals, there is a simple test you can do. Extend your hand, palm down, pinch the skin on the back and lift the fold upwards. Release it and see how long it takes to go back in place. If you are young or have minimal free radical damage, it will snap back instantly. If not, it will slowly go back into place, sometimes taking several seconds, indicating considerable free-radical damage and cross-linkage of collagen.
The first step in protecting yourself from free radicals is to minimize exposure.
Environmental sources stem from smog, exhaust fumes, tobacco smoke, cleaning fluids, chlorinated swimming pools, radioactive substances, and X-rays. Another source is airline travel. Flying at high altitudes increases exposure to cosmic radiation because the atmosphere is too thin to offer much protection.
Ingested sources come from nitrates and nitrites (found in processed meats), artificial food colorings, chlorinated drinking water, rancid and hydrogenated fats. The most difficult one for people to accept is the one posed by polyunsaturated vegetable oils. They are a mixed blessing because they provide essential fatty acids, however, they are chemically unstable. They contain bonds that readily break apart upon exposure to heat, light, or air releasing a cascade of free radicals in the body. The more unsaturated an oil, the greater its risk. Safflower, sunflower, corn, soy, sesame, and canola oils are hazardous when heated, and all of them have been heated during processing. Even “cold-pressed” oils are subjected to temperatures up to 90º C from the friction of the extraction machinery. Ironically, those who consume polyunsaturated fats intending to reduce their risk of heart disease, may be inadvertently contributing to its progression.
The more stable fats/oils less likely to contribute to free radial overload are butter and ghee, olive, avocado, macadamia, and peanut oils. This is because of their high content of monounsaturated and saturated fats. Olive oil is 79% oleic acid (monounsaturated), 13% saturated, and 8% polyunsaturated fat. Oleic acid contributes to the stability of cell membranes, helping them resist invasion by free radicals. It is also the predominant fat in mother's milk and sebum, the protective substance secreted by sweat glands.
Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and are key to protecting tissue from damage! A few examples are vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and selenium. Zinc has the ability to inhibit free radicals as well. Concord grape juice and green tea, among several other food sources have high antioxidant potential and should be consumed daily. The more bombarded you are from free radicals, the more antioxidants you need each and everyday.