Free radicals are unstable atoms which can destroy cells and cause disease and aging.
Free radicals are associated with aging and a host of diseases, but little is understood about their role in human health, or whether they can prevent people from becoming ill.
What are Free Radicals?
Free radicals are highly reactive atoms or molecules with other cellular structures, since they contain unpaired electrons. Free radicals are natural by-products of the body 's ongoing biochemical reactions, including ordinary metabolic processes and responses to the immune system. The food we eat, and medicines we take, the air we breathe, and the water we drink can contain free radical-generating substances. Such substances include fried foods, alcohol, smoke from tobacco, pesticides, air pollution, and so on.
Why are Free Radicals bad?
Your body does a pretty good job of coping with those free radicals when you're young and healthy and you don't even know it. But if you don't eat right, smoke, or are exposed to a lot of free radical environmental sources, your risk of damage to cells and organs increases. Aging is taking its toll also on your free radical defense system.
Over time, free radicals damage cells, and ultimately whatever organ these cells belong to won't perform as well as it should. For example, with free radical exposure, a connective tissue called collagen becomes weaker and eventually the skin gets more wrinkles. You can also damage the walls of your arteries, and build up cholesterol plaques that can limit blood flow to your heart, brain, and other organs or cause blood clots.
An increased risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer, is associated with excessive free radical exposure. It can help to reduce your risk by taking steps to avoid free radical exposure and boosting your antioxidant defenses.
Causes of Free Radicals
Free radical theories about aging and illness can help explain why some people age more slowly than others.
While free radicals are naturally produced in the body, lifestyle factors can accelerate their production. Among these are:
Such lifestyle factors have been associated with illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. And oxidative stress can be a reason why illness is triggered by exposure to such substances.
Free Radicals and Antioxidant
By stealing their electrons through a process called oxidation, free radicals can cause damage to parts of cells including proteins, DNA, and cell membranes. This is why free radical damage is often referred to as "oxidative damage." If free radicals oxidize important cell components, these components lose their ability to function normally, and the cell can die from the accumulation of these damages. Numerous studies indicate that increased development of free radicals induces or accelerates damage to the nerve cells and contributes to illness.
Antioxidants, also known as free radical scavengers, are compounds that either reduce or neutralize the formation of free radicals. Antioxidants also work by giving the free radical an electron, so other cell components can be oxidized. When the free radical's electrons are combined, the free radical stabilizes, becoming non-toxic to the cells.
To Sum It Up
It is impossible to completely eliminate the exposure to free radicals, especially those caused by normal metabolism in the body. That said, adopting a healthy diet rich in a wide range of antioxidants is an excellent start.