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Free Radicals and Nutrition

Free radicals can pose a huge threat to our health because they have the potential to damage our bodies at the cellular level. But what exactly is a free radical?

A free radical is an atom or molecule that contains an unpaired electron. Since electrons have a very strong tendency to exist in a paired state, free radicals try to steal electrons from other atoms and molecules. The danger they pose comes when they react with important cellular components in our body.

Free radicals usually steal from the nearest stable molecule, taking its electron. When the attacked molecule loses its electron, it becomes a free radical (because it is now missing an electron), which starts a chain reaction. A free radical starts a cascade of new free radicals in our body, ultimately resulting in the disruption of the living cell.

Free radicals are naturally generated in the body as a normal part of biochemical processes such as respiration and digestion. Sometimes the body’s immune system creates free radicals to neutralize viruses and bacteria. While free radicals aren’t all bad, too many can cause a number of problems.

An excess of free radicals can be caused by smoking, sunbathing, fried foods, infections, excessive exercise, stress, smog and other environmental pollutants, harmful chemicals, toxins, radiation, etc.

Excess free radicals are a problem because their damage can cause premature aging, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, arthritis, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, and many other conditions. The type of disease that occurs depends on which of the body’s free radical defenses were not working properly and where the free radical attacks occur.

To protect us against the damaging impact of free radicals, our bodies use antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that can safely interact with free radicals and end the chain reaction before any damage is done. Antioxidants donate an electron to the free radical and convert it into a harmless molecule.

Fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains are good sources of natural antioxidants, but you can also choose to take a supplement. Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables include sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, papaya, turnips, spinach, strawberries, kiwi, blueberries, plums, broccoli, red and green bell peppers, tomatoes, etc. Different antioxidants work in different areas of the body, so the key is to eat as many antioxidants as possible.

There are many different types of antioxidants, such as enzymes, coenzymes, vitamins, and sulfur-containing compounds. The most important antioxidant supplements are vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene and selenium. They are all necessary for optimal health and disease prevention, however our bodies cannot manufacture them, so they must be supplied through proper nutrition and supplementation.

Antioxidant compounds must be constantly replenished, as they are depleted in the process of neutralizing free radicals.

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