As you age, your body evolves—it’s a simple fact of life, and a beautiful one at that. Take it from midwife and integrative medicine doctor Aviva Romm, M.D.: “We’re like the tides, we’re like the moon—we change,” she says on the mindbodygreen podcast. It’s a natural process that should be celebrated, not feared. 

Specifically, in your early to mid-40s (perhaps late 40s, for some), you experience a seismic shift in your hormones: “As you get older, your estrogen ultimately starts to decline [and] the number of eggs in your ovaries that you’re born with dwindle down,” Romm notes. Again, a natural part of life, here, but you can make the transition a little more seamless with a few lifestyle shifts. 

When these changes happen, she continues, “make sure [you’re] paying attention to oxidative damage.” Below, she explains why the 40s are the focal point. 

Why you should focus on oxidative damage in your 40s. 

Oxidative stress occurs when excess free radicals (from air pollution, cigarette smoking, pesticides, UV radiation, etc.) damage your cellular structures, including DNA and cell membranes. The thing is, it’s important to tend to oxidative stress throughout your entire lifetime, not when you hit a certain age (and we discuss it at length here at mbg). But according to Romm, your 40s are when you may start to notice the lasting physical effects of that free radical damage. 

As your hormones drop off, “the wear and tear of the exposures you’ve had in your life start to affect your tissues,” she explains. For example, you may notice a new crop of sun spots on your cheeks, fine lines that start to take shape, or decreased moisture from reduced barrier function during this time. 

That’s why, Romm notes, it’s even more important to focus on staving off free radicals and keeping the cellular damage from snowballing further. 

What to do about it. 

You’ve likely heard it once or twice before: To temper oxidative stress, you’ll want to get your fill of antioxidants—these stabilize free radicals or render them harmless by breaking them down; research shows they stop up to 99% of free radicals from damaging our cells. 

The best way to boost your body’s natural levels is to eat plenty of antioxidant-rich plants—think fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Romm agrees: “Nourishing yourself with really rich antioxidant-rich foods like berries [and] greens is super important for our whole life cycle but then becomes very important in those years,” she says.

Some of the star foods she mentions (other than berries and greens) are flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds, all of which are loaded with healthy vitamins and minerals. “Eating seeds is really helpful throughout all of our life cycles,” Romm notes, and especially within that 40s age range. 

She also touts foods high in vitamin C for hormone health: “Citrus, if you tolerate it, is a great way to nourish your ovaries,” she adds. Think orange, grapefruit, lemon—perhaps top your salads with all three for a fresh summer twist, or whip up a pitcher of infused water

The takeaway.   

Technically, oxidative stress is important to mind no matter your age, as is eating a fair share of antioxidant-rich foods. But in your 40s, the effects of cellular damage start to take shape, so it becomes even more important to get your fill of anti-inflammatory, vitamin-rich fruits and veggies.