They come from environmental pollutants, radiation, pesticides, preservatives, cigarettes and car fumes, to name just a few.
Despite the presence of our cells own antioxidant defence system to counteract oxidative damage from free radicals, oxidative damage (which is what happens when you cut open an apple and leave it exposed to the air) accumulates and has been implicated in ageing and age-dependent diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative disorders and other chronic conditions.
Free radical damage also plays a significant role in the ageing process of your skin. Over the years, the skin’s collagen suffers mercilessly from free radical attack. Normal, healthy collagen proteins gently mesh with each other, giving skin its softness and elasticity. Once damaged, these proteins become cross-linked and hard, and ultimately collapse on themselves, preventing them from holding water and remaining plump. The overall effect is a confusion of cross-linked collagen fibres, manifested on the skin’s surface as wrinkles.
The only thing that neutralises free radicals is a group of nutrients known as antioxidants, of which the most potent are vitamins A, C, E and flavonoids found in fruits and vegetables. (For example, if you squeeze lemon juice, which is high in antioxidants, on your sliced apple, it will not oxidise so quickly.)
Antioxidants have an even greater affinity for free radicals than for tissue, and when consumed or applied to the body, they neutralise free radicals and prevent tissue damage. The message is simple: the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less chance you have of developing wrinkles!