The cells in our bodies are constantly going through the process of breaking down and rebuilding, or aiding processes of other functions. These metabolic actions require oxygen in order to occur. Sometimes the oxygen reacts to produce molecules that are not as stable as they should be and these unstable molecules are known as free radicals.
Other factors can also produce free radicals. Things such as environmental toxins from pollutants, chemicals and foods. High stress levels, alcohol, tobacco smoke, and the intake of drugs. There are many ways free radicals can be formed.
What Are Free Radicals?
Free radicals are highly reactive because they consist of molecules that are unpaired with electrons. They don’t like to exist in this unpaired state and search the body to find a stable yet perhaps vulnerable area to steal an electron from. Free radicals don’t discriminate. They need to stabilise and will steal the electrons from wherever they find them available.
But this process causes an onset effect, creating more free radicals as a result. As one free radical steals from another molecule, it then becomes unstable and steals from another, and the chain reaction continues to occur.
Free Radicals Aren’t Just Bad Guys
Free radicals aren’t always bad as they do play an important role in the body and it’s immune defence and cell function. However, too many free radicals can cause widespread damage. They can attack cell membranes in the body and affect the way substances are transported in and out of cells, they can alter DNA and influence the way messages are sent to the messengers that constuct new healthy cells in the body. When this occurs, protein chains may not construct effectively, and this may impair cell function, begin the process of disease, increase aging, and promote inflammation.
The body does have mechanisms to deal with free radicals but it’s often not enough. As we age our mechanisms decrease and if antioxidants are not available, the onset of disease or ill health may increase. Free radicals have been indentified as a possible causative factor in cognitive diseases such as alziemers, dementia and depression and in the development of diseases such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and diabetes.
What Helps Control Free Radicals?
Dietary anitioxidants can help to control the effects of free radicals because the body can’t always deal with the load. Our body needs certain minerals to use as enzymes in the process of dealing with free radicals. If these important nutrients are missing then free radical disposal is weakened. We also need those valuable antioxidants to donate their electrons to the free radicals so they don’t steal them from other cells in the body. Then our body has a better chance of staying in balance and warding off disease and illness.
I’ll be covering antioxidants in an article tomorrow so please subscribe to be informed of the updates.
Nutrition & Health Coach