Countering Free Radicals
Free radicals are minute particles formed during the billions of chemical processes that take place in the human body, and make life possible. We are made of molecules that are in turn made up of atoms, and all atoms (and molecules) have electrons surrounding them.
Electrons are generally paired, but during certain reactions one of an electron pair may become detached. The remaining atom (or molecule) is now an unstable free radical, with one unpaired (free) electron.
To become stable again the free radical must grab an electron from another molecule. But now that other molecule becomes a free radical in turn. The chain reaction of molecules stealing electrons from each other continues; it can be thousands of events long and very destructive until the sequence ends.
These chain reactions are damped down by antioxidant enzymes (all of which require trace elements like zinc, selenium and manganese to function). They are also counteracted by antioxidant nutrients involving, among others, vitamin E, lycopene and vitamin C.
Antioxidant phytonutrients (phyto = plant-derived) such as flavonoids also play an important role; another reason why broad spectrum nutrition is so critically important for health.
This process of free radical formation is also called oxidative damage as oxygen molecules and species are often involved. Excessive free radical (oxidative) damage to tissues contributes to age-related diseases from heart disease to cancer.
There are a number of well-known factors that increase the levels of free radicals in our bodies, and increase the risks of such diseases These include smoking, exposure to radiation (from ultra violet to X-rays and all things radioactive) – and inflammation
Inflammation-induced cell damage produces toxic compounds which trigger the release of excess free radicals. The resulting ‘oxidative stress’ further damages those cells, and this process then releases a second wave of inflammation.
This vicious circle of inflammation creating free radical damage which creates further inflammation drives both age related disease and the ageing process itself – unless sufficient anti-inflammatory and antioxidant defences are in place.