Understanding free radicals and antioxidants

Imagining the molecular level is important in understanding free radicals and antioxidants.

Let’s talk about free radicals…

Oxygen is one of the worse free radicals. See, oxygen is two-faced.

Oxygen gives life to everything by fueling mitochondria: little energy plants in the cells. The same life-giving qualities cause it to react with things it shouldn’t (think: a cigarette sparking a forest fire).

There are different oxygen molecules, and some kinds are extremely reactive.

A well-balanced atom has a nucleus at the center, with the right number of electrons surrounding it.

Under certain circumstances these atoms lose an electron or two –becoming radicals, or free radicals.

The free radicals wander around looking for replacement electrons attached to other atoms. None of them are more reactive than oxygen radicals.

This process is nothing new. Oxygen radicals and other free radicals have been forming since the beginnings of life.

“Living creatures have struggled to evolve ways and means of neutralizing these feckless allies [free radicals] since the very beginnings of life.” – Dr Bryce Wylde (The Antioxidant Prescription: How to Use the Power of Antioxidants to Prevent Disease and Stay Healthy for Life)

For a really good understanding of free radicals and antioxidants, I recommend reading “The Antioxidant Miracle “


Why is understanding free radicals and antioxidants so important now?

These days, our unhealthy lifestyles and environment are exponentially increasing the creation of free radicals in our bodies!

We don’t get enough antioxidants to combat the effect.


Why do free radicals even exist?

Well, they don’t “exist”, they form. Through the natural metabolic process free radicals are constantly being created, at the rate of around 1000 per cell an hour! And they aren’t all bad.

Another fun fact of understanding free radicals and antioxidants: free radicals are actually nature’s preferred mechanism of self-destruction. This is after they reach the Hayflick limit.

The Hayflick limit: Normal human cells can only divide 52 times before effectively committing suicide. This is called apoptosis. The theory is that we age because of this set cell “lifespan”. Other circumstances can radically speed up the process.

Some free radical molecules are actually essential components of the immune system. In some cases they are needed by the body; put to use when we try to remember, fight a cold, or feel sexually aroused.

The free radicals nitric oxide and superoxide are used for opening blood vessels and poisoning invasive viruses and bacteria.

Our immune system uses certain free radicals to kill cancer cells before the cancer grows.

Did you know? Many cancer drugs work by temporarily increasing the production of free radicals in the body. That is how radiation destroys a cancer tumor.

There is no avoiding free radical formation

Many chemical reactions are constantly occurring in the body during regular metabolism. During these reactions, oxygen atoms are constantly losing atoms, creating free radicals.

They are also formed as a by-product of the natural metabolism and inflammation process. If free radicals are not neutralized quickly, degenerative diseases and faster aging result.

This process is similar to rusting. Rust is the reaction of iron with the same oxygen radicals that “rust” our bodies.

They are everywhere…where there is life, there is the free radical – good or bad. That will help you in understanding free radicals and antioxidants.

As they delve deeper into the study of DNA, scientists are seeing that free radicals are at the root of every possible disease.

“In the last thirty years, free radical research has led to profound biochemical, biological and medical advances. Our knowledge of radicals has grown, and as it has grown, it has enhanced our understanding of how DNA mutates and the important role radicals play in cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and autoimmune diseases.”

“At the molecular level, free radical damage is the cause of all disease...what happens at the molecular level inevitably affects our overall health” – Bryce Wylde (The Antioxidant Prescription)

The greatest cause of free radical formation is our exposure to environmental toxins:

• Carbon dioxide emissions

• Industrial pollutants

• Cigarette smoke

• Radiation

• Food additives

• Plastic off-gassing and leaching

Lifestyle factors also contribute. I am talking about stress, trauma, alcohol, deep-fried and artificial foods, and overly strenuous exercise.

Life is continually exposed to oxidative stress from the inside and outside. Living cells and organisms developed defense mechanisms for protection. This is where antioxidants come in.

Are you understanding free radicals and antioxidants?

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