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The power of antioxidants1

“Antioxidant” seems to be the hottest buzzword in the health industry today.  It’s front and center on vitamins and supplements, and even shows up on the labels of our personal care products.  From hair care to skin creams, marketing departments have clearly begun to recognize the selling power of the term, so we thought we’d break down exactly what they are, and why we need them.

In a nutshell, antioxidants counteract the body’s oxidation process which produces cell damaging free radicals.  Free radicals are extremely unstable molecules with an odd number of electrons that can alter the structure of your cells permanently damaging your DNA.  Because these electrons are unpaired, they travel through the body looking to buddy-up by stealing electrons leading to a chain of biochemical events which create more free radicals.  Free radical / cellular damage has been linked to premature aging of the skin, muscles and other organs, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and several other forms of illness.

If you’ve ever watched an apple turn brown after it’s been sliced and left to sit out, you are already familiar with oxidation.  This same process occurs within the body every day yet the environment we live in can add even more to our oxidation load.  The sun’s UV rays, air pollution and cigarette smoke can all cause further oxidative stress.  While our bodies are capable of defending against some of this, it could always benefit from some extra help and this is where the power of antioxidants comes in.  Antioxidants have the ability to stabilize free radicals thereby preventing their ability to cause disease promoting cellular damage.

Studies have shown a decreased rate of heart disease, cancer, and muscular degeneration in people with higher antioxidant intake which may well be why the term has become the buzzword it has.  Now, even though you may see it plastered across bags, boxes and bottles, it’s important to note in combination with vitamins, your diet remains the most effective way to get your fill of disease fighting antioxidants.  Eating the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day is a good start as they tend to have the highest content.

Beta-Carotene / Vitamin A, Manganese, Selenium, Zinc and Vitamins C and E are all powerful antioxidants which can act as a shield and help prevent the damage caused by harmful free radicals.  We’ve listed some foods below to help you get started on increasing your intake.

 

Beta Carotene –  mangoes, sweet potatoes, squash and carrots
Manganese – pecans, oats, pine nuts, brown rice, flax seeds, pineapple
Selenium – Brazil nuts, quinoa, cottage cheese, chicken
Zinc – Pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, cashews, wheat germ
Vitamin C – Strawberries, oranges, kiwis, spinach, broccoli
Vitamin E – Kale, Spinach, pine nuts, chick peas, lentils chick peas, vegetable and sunflower oils.

There is no way to prevent oxidation, or stop free radicals from forming, but you can certainly take steps to help prevent the amount of damage they can do.  If it’s antioxidants you’re after, a healthy diet in addition to your prenatal vitamins, is the way to go.

Playing with sand

It’s no secret that the elements can affect the condition of the skin and with summer upon us, we thought now would be a good time to give you the low down on how to care for your skin and protect it from the abuse it’s subjected to throughout the upcoming season.

While some may love to bask in it, the most obvious assailant is the sun.  While it is by and large the most damaging, the sun is not the only culprit capable of wreaking havoc on our skin during the summer months; chlorine, humidity and excessive heat can also create their fair share of problems.

The type of damage caused by the sun’s UV rays is referred to as photoaging. After years of unprotected exposure to the sun, the collagen and elastin fibers in the skin break down, and the ability to regenerate new collagen is drastically reduced.  The result is sagging skin with a leathery or weathered appearance and while leather may be nice in a handbag, it is far from an ideal look for your skin.  Over-exposure to the sun can also lead to age spots and other pigmentation disorders, and of course the worst case scenario; skin cancer.

Now we know you’ve heard it said many times before, but it bears repeating because it’s true.  The number one thing you can do to care for your skin this summer is to wear sunscreen.  You should be using an SPF of 15 or higher throughout the year, but sunscreen is particularly crucial in the summer months when the UV rays are at their strongest.  Apply one with a minimum SPF of 30 about half an hour before sun exposure.  It should be reapplied every two to three hours, and immediately after swimming regardless of the time of your last application.  If you’re looking for extra protection, wear a hat.  We know, we know…everyone wants the look of a “sun-kissed goddess” however, sun-kissed today, leaves you wrinkled tomorrow.   If you’re looking for color, get it from a bottle or a bronzer.

Those with rosacea may have already discovered that the heat can aggravate the skin and cause the condition to flare up.  Keeping cool, is the key to preventing excessive outbreaks in the summer months.

Thanks to the sun and the drying nature of various pool chemicals, there tend to be more dead skin cells sitting on the surface layer during the hotter months.  Once that summer heat kicks in, the pores open wide creating a breeding ground for bacteria.  Gently exfoliate your skin every other day throughout the summer to slough away the dead skin cells.  This will prevent them from getting in to the pores causing unwanted blemishes.

More sun means more swimming and whether you’re in the ocean or splashing about in the backyard pool, chlorine, saltwater, and even too much freshwater can disrupt the PH balance of your skin causing dryness and flaking.  Although you may not think your skin needs as much moisture as it does in the winter months, it is just as important throughout the summer.  If you feel that your winter moisturizer is too greasy or heavy, you can always opt for a lighter, water-based formula.

While some skin aging is unavoidable, photoaging and the damage caused by overexposure to the elements is.  It may not be widely recognized as such, but sunscreen is THE single most effective beauty product on the market. Remember, an ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure.

Have a safe and happy summer!

Pregnancy StressWe all experience stress from time to time but studies have proven too much stress can lead to a number of health issues.  This is no different during pregnancy.  Not only will a consistently high level of stress negatively affect you, it can also put the health of your baby at risk.

Your body has a chemical reaction to stress and responds by producing a hormone called cortisol.  This then signals the liver to ramp up its production of glucose creating an inflammatory environment within the body.  These inflammatory conditions can compromise your immune system increasing your susceptibility to various infections.  The excess glucose can also be particularly troublesome for those already at risk for diabetes.

In addition to complications arising from infections or diabetes, consistently high levels of cortisol during pregnancy have been linked to miscarriage, delayed fetal growth, preeclampsia, premature delivery, low birth weight and potential developmental delays for your child later in life.  While further research is still needed, recent studies also suggest that maternal stress during pregnancy can result in babies with higher instances of asthma, allergies and chronic health problems in adulthood.

Pregnancy prompts most of us to adopt a healthier lifestyle, yet this encompasses much more than dietary changes.  Our mental health is closely linked with the health of our bodies and your plan for a healthy pregnancy should take this in to consideration.  Because stress is often unavoidable, the key to protecting your baby from its effects is to find ways to reduce it and healthy ways to handle it.  We’ve listed five stress-busting solutions below:

·         Exercise and Diet – Providing you’ve received the all-clear from your doctor or midwife, moderate exercise during pregnancy can combat the negative effects of stress in more ways than one.  Similar to its response to stress, there is also a chemical reaction to exercise.  The body releases endorphins during exercise which are natural mood stimulators known to produce feelings of euphoria which help to combat stress and anxiety.  The hormones released during exercise can reduce the body’s levels of cortisol and boost your immune system in the process.   Research also shows diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids can give your mood a boost.  Taking a DHA Omega-3 during pregnancy and breastfeeding is recommended.

·          Sleep – Between a growing belly, heartburn, and frequent late night trips to the bathroom, sleeping during pregnancy isn’t always easy, but it is a must.  Sleep and mood are very closely connected.  Without adequate sleep, you are more prone to anxiety and depression, and twice as likely to feel stressed than if you were well rested.  Limiting your fluid intake in the evening can result in fewer bathroom visits, and staying upright and awake within an hour of eating can minimize heartburn.  If you find you are still unable to sleep for long stretches, it’s important to remember that every bit counts.  If you are able to, take a nap. If napping isn’t an option, simply lying / sitting down undisturbed with your eyes closed in a quiet environment can help you feel more rested.

·         Prayer or Meditation – Spending time in prayer or mindful meditation can reverse your body’s response to stress by stabilizing the blood pressure, slowing your heart rate and regulating the release of stress hormones.  There is a growing body of evidence which shows that people with a strong faith background or spiritual community have improved immune function, suffer less depression and are better able to cope with stress.

·         Social Supports – Examine your social circle and ditch the negative Nellies! Strong and healthy relationships uplift us which contributes to feelings of well-being.  Perhaps more importantly though, these relationships also provide support during difficult times.  If you are dealing with a significant amount of stress, reach out to your support system and allow your loved ones to help you through it.

       ·           Slow Down – We women can be our own worst enemies often setting unreasonable expectations for ourselves.  We tend to take on too much which can leave us feeling overwhelmed and susceptible to stress as a result.  The solution here is to slow down and take a breather.  Limit your “To Do” list to mandatory tasks, and learn to say no to commitments that will over-extend you.  It is impossible to relax when you are constantly on the go.  You’ll be surprised to discover how much you can reduce your stress level simply by minimizing the number of things you are trying to accomplish.

Hormonal changes during pregnancy can influence your mood making it more difficult to deal with stress, but the tips above should help to ward it off.   If you find that you are unable to control your stress or feel that it is contributing to feelings of extreme depression, please speak to your healthcare provider. Seeking help before you deliver will reduce your odds of succumbing to post-partum depression once baby arrives.  Your mental health impacts your physical health and tending to both will provide the best start for your growing baby.

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