Heard of free radicals? They’re waste products released by your body's cells as they go about their business of burning food for energy, fighting off germs, and more. The problem: Free radicals can build up in tissues the same way grime builds up in motors, triggering everything from wrinkles and cataracts to clogged arteries and cancer.
Fortunately, new research has made counteracting free-radical damage easier than ever. Experts recommend the following tips to fend off damage naturally.
1. Use coffee berry to up your antioxidants.
Taking a coffee berry supplement daily helps reverse your skin's aging by stalling fine lines and wrinkles, suggests research out of North Carolina’s Center for Skin Biology. Coffee berries are rich in antioxidants that neutralize free radicals. Find coffee berry supplements in health-food stores and online at Amazon.com. Reputable brands like New Chapter and Source Naturals are naturally low in caffeine (each capsule contains about as much caffeine as 1/2 cup of tea). Important: Always talk to your doctor before starting a new supplement.
2. Try oyster mushrooms to defend DNA.
Eating two cups weekly of oyster mushrooms (the pale gray caps look like oyster shells, hence the name) can block the growth of cancerous cells, while also cutting your risk of premature aging 40 percent, say Asian researchers. The credit goes to ergothioneine, a compound in these mushrooms that shields the DNA inside your cells from free-radical attack. Fresh oyster mushrooms can be found in supermarkets and farmers’ markets alongside the common white-button mushrooms. Never tried them? Their delicate flavor makes a great addition to soups, casseroles and omelets — plus they’re delicious grilled.
3. Dodge heart damage with laughter.
Watching a half-hour sitcom daily can improve circulation and cut your blood levels of heart-aging inflammation as much as 66 percent, say Loma Linda University scientists. In fact, regular bouts of laughter reduce stress so effectively, they increase your body’s ability to break down free radicals before they can cause inflammation in your tissues, says Richard Shames, MD, author of Feeling Fat, Fuzzy or Frazzled? Bonus: According to the Loma Linda study, laughing often also improves your liver function, helping it produce 26 percent more artery-cleaning HDL cholesterol.
4. Outsmart aging with phytates.
Surprise: Even in small daily doses, these little known molecules — found in nuts, seeds, legumes, whole-wheat cereals, and brown and wild rice — can help lengthen your life, says Henry Mallek, PhD, author of The New Longevity Diet. Phytates not only bind tightly to free radicals — stopping them from damaging your cells — they also nourish older cells, so they start growing and behaving like younger ones. “Phytates can even slow aging of your brain and nervous system,” says Mallek. Rx: Two 1/2-cup servings of phytate-rich foods daily.
5. Keep your brain sharp with shuteye.
Get 7 1/2 hours of sleep nightly (or catch up with catnaps), and you could cut your risk of brain aging and premature memory loss 55 percent. Sleep, note UCLA researchers, is when your tissues produce superoxide dismutase (SOD), a compound that breaks down free radicals before they damage brain nerves.
6. Neutralize troubles with artichokes.
Eating three fresh, frozen or canned artichoke hearts daily can cut even chronic intestinal upsets — such as indigestion, pain, bloating and gassiness — as much as 70 percent in six weeks. And British research suggests the same daily dose also protects against colon cancer. Artichokes are rich in chlorogenic acid, a compound that inactivates free radicals in the digestive tract. And if intestinal tissues do become inflamed or damaged, it speeds healing, the study authors say.
7. Get lots of exercise.
According to Tufts University researchers, the harder you push yourself physically, the more age-triggering free radicals your muscles produce. The good news: If you’re working out for more than four hours weekly, taking 500 mg. of vitamin C and 400 IU of vitamin E daily will neutralize any extra free radicals your workouts produce.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.