What are free radicals?
Free radicals are formed as part of our natural metabolism but also by environmental factors: including anaesthetics, certain drugs, cigarette smoke, pesticides, pollution, radiation, ultraviolet light, and industrial solvents.
Free radicals are oxygen-containing chemicals that have an impaired electron, which make them unstable molecules. They are highly reactive to essential molecules of our body, including DNA, membranes, fat and proteins, generating damages such as cell and cell structures destruction, DNA mutation (Cancer, Ageing…), protein dysfunction…
How Free Radicals React?
Everything on this earth, including our body, our food and the air, consist of atoms, which can be bound together to form molecules. A single atom has a specific number of protons (positively charged) and electrons (negatively charged), and is mostly unstable because it contains too few or too many electrons; therefore, an atom will give away or receive electrons from other atoms – forming molecules – in order to reach a state of maximum stability.
Free Radicals, by-products of oxygen use by every cell of the body (containing 1 extra oxygen electron or 1 less) enter a molecule and try to steal or give that electron to reach its own stability, changing the molecule structure (oxidation): the molecule becomes a free radical itself. Once the molecule has become a free radical a chain reaction is activated that can be responsible for the destruction of a complete cell. Over time oxidation has also been shown to contribute to ageing, heart disease, cataracts, brain dysfunction and infection by slowing down of the immune system.
Free radicals are one of the by-products of oxygen use by every cell in our body. These substances damage the body’s cells through oxidation, the same process that rusts metal and turns butter rancid. Oxidation has also been shown to contribute to heart disease, cataracts, aging, and infections.
The body’s cells have a natural defense strategy against free radicals and are often able to repair the damage caused by them. However antioxidants, such as selenium and beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A), help reinforce this protection. Studies have suggested that antioxidants are best taken as foods as opposed to supplements.
How to neutralise Free Radicals?
Antioxidants are the super hero our body is desperately seeking when our cells are under Free Radicals attack. Antioxidants neutralise Free Radicals by giving their own electrons to the Free Radicals, without becoming Free Radical Themselves. However, Free Radicals do not become antioxidants but stable – and inactive – atoms.
Free radicals are not always harmful: white blood cells release free radicals to destroy invading pathogenic microbes as part of the body’s defence mechanism against disease. Free Radicals also serve useful purposes in the human body and may be necessary compounds in the maturation processes of cellular structures.
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