Our body is under constant attack from oxidative stress. Oxygen in our body can split into single atoms with unpaired electrons. Electrons prefer to be in pairs, so these atoms, called free radicals, scavenge the body to seek out other electrons in order be paired. This process causes damage to cells, proteins and DNA.
Free radicals are associated with a variety of human diseases, including cancer, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and so many others. Free radicals may also be linked to aging, which has been defined as a gradual accumulation of free-radical damage.
Sources of Free Radicals
- Air pollution
- Cigarette smoke
- Automobile exhaust
- Toxic waste
- UV light
- Certain foods
- Internal Production
- Metabolic reactions
- Stress Factors
- Chain Reactions
A free radical steels an electron to balance itself and this creates a new free radical and this process continues leading to the formation of millions of free radicals.
Are Free Radicals beneficial to human body?
Free radicals may be essential to life. The body's ability to turn air and food into chemical energy depends on a chain reaction of free radicals. Free radicals are also a crucial part of the immune system, floating through the veins and attacking foreign invaders.
Are Free Radicals Dangerous?
As soon as free radicals are formed, a chain reaction starts. The first free radical pulls an electron from a molecule, which destabilizes the molecule and turns it into a free radical. That molecule then takes an electron from another molecule, destabilizing it and turning it into a free radical. This domino effect disrupts and damages the whole cell. The free radical chain reaction may induce broken cell membranes, which can alter what enters and exits the cell. The chain reaction may alter the structure of a lipid, making it more likely to become trapped in an artery. The damaged molecules may mutate and grow tumors or the cascading damage may change the DNA code.
Oxidative stress develops when there are too many free radicals and too much cellular damage. Oxidative stress is associated with damage of proteins, lipids and nucleic acids. Various studies suggested oxidative stress may play a role in the development of many disorders, including macular degeneration, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, emphysema, alcoholism, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, ulcers and all inflammatory diseases. Free radicals may also be associated with aging. Free radicals can damage DNA code, causing our new cells to grow incorrectly, leading to aging.
What are the symptoms of oxidative stress?
Symptoms of oxidative stress may include:
- Noise sensitivity
- Memory loss
- Brain fog
- Muscle and joint pain
- Wrinkles and gray hair
- Vision trouble
- Compromised immunity.
Are there Tests for free radicals?
The amount of free radicals in the body cannot be directly measured. However, there are indirect methods of measuring oxidative stress involving analysis of byproducts of lipid peroxidation. The accuracy of these methods is questionable. Moreover, kits for testing oxidative stress are available and their accuracy is also questionable.
Antioxidants can control free radicals and prevent their damaging effects. Thus, antioxidants are molecules in cells that prevent free radicals from taking electrons and causing damage. Antioxidants are able to give an electron to a free radical without being destabilized and thus terminating the free radical chain reaction. Antioxidants are considered natural substances whose function is to clean up free radicals. Just like fiber cleans up waste products in the intestines, antioxidants can clean up the free radical waste in the cells. The well-known antioxidants include beta-carotene, other carotenoids, lutein, vitamin C, vitamin E, lycopene and other phytonutrients.
The human body can produce some antioxidants on its own, but not a sufficient amount. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants, too many free radicals and too few antioxidants.
Antioxidants can be obtained from diet or supplements. Antioxidants are plentiful in fruits and vegetables, especially colorful fruits and vegetables including berries, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, nuts and green tea.
Antioxidants became well known in the 1990s when scientists began to realize the possible effects of free radicals on cancer development, atherosclerosis and other chronic conditions. During the subsequent decades, scientists have conducted many studies on the effects of antioxidants with mixed results. A 6-year trial, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), found that a combination of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and zinc offered some protection against the development of advanced age-related macular degeneration.
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