Posts Tagged ‘free radicals’

When I was a child the only spinach I knew was the droopy olive green strands that came in a can.   Then one night I went out to steak house with  my friend Kim and her parents.   I was  thinking only of a juicy filet and hash browns and my heart sank as Kim’s mother also ordered a spinach and bacon salad.   Still cringing I dug  in my fork and pulled out the tinest bit of bacon drenched  leaf.  It was love at first bite. I ate every morsel of that salad and every time I went to a  restaurant I scanned the menu for a similar dish.

But more than delicious and versatile,  spinach  is  a nutritious anti-aging, antioxidant  rock star.  Raw or cooked, its packed with antioxidants like vitamin A ( 168% of RDA), leutin, vitamin C vitamin E, vitamin B6, and  folic acid.  Spinach also packs a payload of anti-aging minerals including iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, copper and selenium.  Last but not least spinach is  fat -free, low in carbs and offers both fiber and protein.  Seriously, its that good.

When I first started to cook, spinach with bacon sald was one of the first dishes I mastered.  And like so  many  young brides of the time  I worked  my  way through Julia Child and learned how to saute fresh spinach with olive oli and garlic —  equally delicious with the calories , fat and salt of  my first spinach favorite.

There are four basic types of spinach in the  markets these days:

1.  Curly spinach– can be a bit tough and its hard to get the dirt and sand out of its grooves.  Its been said that curly spinach  gave this gorgeous green a bad rep for a gritty texture.

2. Flat or smooth spinach– are tender and much easier to clean throughly of all the grit that clings to the leaves.  You can eat the whole thing, but the stem if they are long can be a bit untidy.  I take off half the stems so that the dish  looks  nice and leafy rather than stringy.

3.  Baby spinach– smooth tender  little leaves  are perfect for salds and can be beused in sandwiches in place of lettuce.

4.  Frozen spinach–  these lumpy green blocks preserve the antioxidants beautifully.   They are  an inexpensive  choice  where spinach is an ingredient in a soup, frittata,  quiche or stuffed mushroom.

One final thought.  While on paper spinach is high in both iron and calcium, these anti-aging minerals are in a form that is not easily available to the body. That’s the bad news. The good news? Serving and or cooking spinach with lemon juice or dairy increase absorption for both minerals. Squeezing lemon on sauteed spinach or mixing Greek yogurt into chopped cooked spinach are delicious ways to increase nutritional availability. FYI the antioxidant vitamins are available whether spinach is frozen, raw or cooked. Nice.


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Question:  Help!  I’ve got a painful sunburn.

Answer:   Despite our best intentions, sunburns  happen.  Its all to easy to forget to reapply  sunscreen  during the day and by the time  the sun goes down,  you’re red and achy.  To deal with the sunburn I suggest   assembling a little sunburn emergency kit in advance.  You need just five affordable and easy to find items:

1.  Aspirin

2.  A real live Aloe Vera plant

3.  A  jar of Shea butter

4. A box of  Quacker’s Oatmeal

5.  Green tea bags

Here’s the drill:   When you realize that you’re fried, take two aspirin.  This will reduce  the inflammation which is  the root of the pain and damge  to your skin.  Then fill a tub with lukewarm water and swish  a handful of oatmeal into the water.  Get in and soak for 20 minutes.  Oatmeal is one of the best  anti-inflammatory remedies we have and the water will draw out some of the heat.  Out of the tub, dry off gently and smooth on  some shea butter.  In the morning, cut open a leaf of  Aloe plant and spread the fresh gel onto your skin.  Be careful with commercial Aloe gels which may contain alcohol that can irritate your skin and increse dyhydration.

During the day make sure to eat plenty of fruit and drink water.  Cold water absorbs better than warm water and iced green tea will also provide much needed anti-oxidants to counteract the free radical storm of a sunburn.  To avoid further irritation use a 30-50SPF sunscreen  for sensitive skin.  These are physical sunscreens with zinc oxides rather  than chemical  protection which may be irritating to tender burned skin. If you’re going  outside, wear a broad brimmed hat for extra protection.

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Sometimes anti-aging  ingredients and skin care  product descriptions sound like a review sheet  for  a medical board exam.  This week  questions about two  anti-aging ingredients sent  me to Pub Med, the  NIH online medical library for the answers. 

Question 1– What is Idebenone?

This is a synthetic antioxidant that is designed to mimic CoQ10, a naturally  occurring oxidant found in our cells.  (FYI  CoQ10 which is responsible for energy, decreases as  we get older).  Idebenone is an especially powerful antioxidant, perhaps the most powerful antioxidant in our anti-aging arsenal. Antioxidants in general  help prevent aging by dealing with free radicals in the cells.  Our biggest sources of  free radicals are cigarette smoke, alcohol and sunlight.  It certainly makes sense to put antioxidnts into a sunscreen where it can do hand to  hand combat  with the sunlight induced free radicals.  At night  they can play a role in repairing  the skin from its daily exposure   to free radicals.  All good, but antioxidants are  only one piece of the anti-aging skin puzzle.

Idebenone is found in Prevage which is available in two strengths.  Prevage MD is at 1% strength and only available at doctor’s offices.  Elizabeth Arden makes  a .05% Prevage serum available at department stores.   Has anyone had experience with either type of Prevage?  Did you see a difference in your skin?

Question 2– What is Argireline?

This peptide is supposed to mimic benefits of Botox.  Both argireline and Botox interfere with a protein that is  important  for nerve transmision.  But only Botox can directly affect the nerve cells that send signals  from nerves to muscles to contract.  Without this signal,  muscles relax and so do wrinkles.  Argireline does not affect the nerve cells,  and  does not directly affect  nerve cells.  My dream team of dermatologists are not impressed with argireline, citing lack of studies that show it works.  Their conclusion– if you want  a Botox effect on the skin, use Botox.

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The NHANES study  found that women who had diets high in vitamin C  had  fewer lines and wrinkles.  Good to know, but  what  does that mean  in terms of real food?   I started to look into vitamin C rich foods, and discovered that tomatoes  offered a great nutritional package.  In the US, over half of our daily vitamin C intake is from tomatoes.  In addition to being essential for the formation of wrinkle- busting  collagen, vitamin C is also a  uber anti-oxidant that  protects against aging free radicals.  And the benefits don’t stop there. From the  tiny cherry tomatoes to the giant beefsteak, tomatoes are packed with potassium, beta carotene and disease protecting lutein and lycopene.  Even the skin of a tomato is  super rich in quercetin, a much studied anti-aging anti-oxidant.   And what’s really awsome, every form of  a tomato  is rich in nutrients.   Raw tomatoes  are rich in vitamin c and  beta carotene.  Tomato soups and sauces are bursting  with even  higher levels in lycopene and lutein. 

I have focused on the beauty benefits of foods, but I can’t ignore the  health benefits of tomatoes.  They are a  major component of the Mediterranean diet and many experts  believe that tomaotes play an important role in the studies  which show the Med diet  lowers risk of heart disease  and cancer.  Other well designed studies have shown that tomatoes reduce risk of prostate and pancreatic cancers.   And one final fact–  combining  tomaotes with a little olive oil  helps the body better absorb its nutrients.  I can almost   make the case for pizza as a health food.  Almost.

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#4– Don’t Smoke

As if you need another reason to quit smoking.  Tobacco smoke lowers blood flow  that makes the skin look dull and pale.  The toxic chemicals in cigarettes ( there  are 2000 of them, no kidding) provoke free radicals which splinter our collagen and elastin– those fibers that keep the skin smooth and firm.  Even the physical act of  smoking ( pursing your lips around the cigarettes creates the hard-to treat vertical lines around the mouth.  And if you are  pack a day smoker, quitting will save up to $3000/year which can buy  a great new wardrobe.

And I don’t want to forget second hand smoke.  It has been estimated that up to 50,000 people die each year from heart or lung disease due to second hand smoke– so its not much of a stretch to believe that others peoples bad tobacco habits can  age my skin. Next time someone asks me if they can smoke, I’ll say  “Sure, as long as you cover the cost for my new tube of Retin-A”

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You  see antioxidants advertised  in practically everything from baby cereal to low-carb beer.  Some experts believe that  antioxidants can prevent cancer,  heart disease and aging.  Other scientists are  rather dubious about the health benefits of antioxidants.  As with  most things in life– the truth  lies somewhere in between.

Antioxidants    have the ability to subdue unstable molecules known as free- radicals.  These bad boys  are molecules that have lost an electron. Free radicals crash around cells interferring with routinue functions such as growth, repair and immunity. Things calm down when  antioxidants  provide the missing electron.

There is no shortage  of antioxidants in  our environment. The short list  of antioxidant- rich items  include   vitamins A, C and E, olive oil, salmon, green tea, red wine tumeric and sunflower seeds. We have lots of  laboratory studies that show anti0xidants can protect cells from free- radicals.  In real life  the results are not so clear.  While  we can  see that people whose diets are high in antioxidant rich food have a lower risk of cancer and heart disease, when we take  antioxidant supplements, the benefits are just not there.

But, and this is a very big but, one area where  antioxidants perform well is on the skin.  Antioxidants from green tea, soy oats  and tumeric  can protect the skin  from sun damage.  Antioxidants in skin care products have  products  have been shown to reduce  sunburn and DNA damage from sun exposure.  Antioxidant  rich sunscreens not only reduce  risk of skin cancer, it may protect against  sun-related aging.  Since about 90% of skin aging under age 60 is due to sun exposure, this is huge!   Moisturizers, sunscreens, and make-up  can all benefit from antioxidants.

On Friday I will be posting my Summer Beauty Tool Kit and not surprisingly, antioxidants will have a starring role.

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