The normal cell function of the human body produces by-products which can be dangerous. When cells in the body create energy, at the same time they create oxygen molecules which may be unstable. These molecules are known as free radicals and have a missing electron. Due to the absence of the electron, the molecules become highly unhinged and potentially dangerous as they turn to healthy cells and steal their electron, which in turn makes the healthy cell a free radical. This creates a chain, and once the chain reaches a certain size, it can cause life-threatening illnesses.
What Causes Free Radicals?
While some free radicals are generated by the body naturally to help metabolic processes, this is in quantities that the body can cope with. However, the stresses of today’s lifestyle mean many people produce way too many free radicals and the body is unable to manage such large quantities. Stress is a major contributing factor for free radical development, along with pesticides found in food, toxins that may be present in personal hygiene products, and solar radiation. Activities such as smoking, drinking excessive alcohol and even over-exercising contribute to the disproportionate number of free radicals in the body. Certain pharmaceutical medications can also increase free radical production as can a diet consisting of mainly processed foods.
Oxidative Stress & Free Radicals
"Oxidation" is a term used by pharmacists to describe the process of removing electrons from a molecule. Oxidative stress is the result when the body is unable to cope with the number of free radicals present. Oxidative damage harms genes, molecules and proteins of the body.
We usually think of oxygen as a blessing, and rightly so, but it can also be a curse to the human body. While we need oxygen to survive, the necessary process of breathing can result in the formation of free radicals. Free radical oxidative damage contributes to a wide range of disorders and illnesses.
You can think of oxidative stress like the rust on the bodywork of a car that is exposed over time to the elements. The rust eats away at the metal until eventually parts of the car will break off and become useless.
Disease & Free Radicals
Much scientific research has been carried out in recent years on the subject of disease and free radicals. Evidence is growing that free radicals cause many degenerative diseases. These include cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, asthma, coronary heart disease, joint inflammation, degenerative eye disease, and many disorders often associated with aging such as wrinkled skin and stiffness.
Counteracting Free Radicals
Antioxidants, as their name implies, are substances that counteract the oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Antioxidants are actually vitamins, minerals and enzymes (proteins used by the body that help in chemical reaction processes). Antioxidants help prevent the development of free radicals and can even reverse some of the damage already done. As well as eating an antioxidant rich diet, supplementing with antioxidants is another important tool in the battle against free radicals.