Fighting Oxidative Stress, Free Radicals & Free Radical Damage.
Antioxidants, ORAC scores, free radicals and oxidative stress:
These things have become trendy topics as far as health and longevity are concerned.
Many people have heard that foods with antioxidants protect us from free radical damage, which is responsible for many of the effects of ageing on both the body and mind.
But what exactly are free radicals, why are they bad and where do they come from?
When antioxidant levels in the body are lower than those of free radicals, due to factors like poor nutrition or lots of incoming toxins, the immune system is overloaded and ageing occurs more rapidly. In order to know how to best protect yourself from health problems linked to free radical damages.
What Are Free Radicals and How Do They Cause Damage?
The definition of free radicals is “uncharged molecules (typically highly reactive and short-lived) having an unpaired valence electron.”
According to the Pharmacognosy Review, “reactive oxygen species and reactive nitrogen species are generated by our body by various endogenous systems, exposure to different physiochemical conditions or pathological states.”
Free radicals can be very harmful, but their production within the body is certainly not abnormal or even entirely bad. Despite contributing to the ageing process, free radicals are also essential players in the immune system. Our bodies produce free radicals as byproducts of cellular reactions, metabolism of foods, breathing and other vital functions. The liver produces and uses free radicals for detoxification, while white blood cells send free radicals to destroy bacteria, viruses and damaged cells.
Why are free radicals thought to be dangerous then?
As naturopath Dr. Bhatt explains, free radicals are unstable molecules, meaning they’re always on the lookout for chemical components that other cells have but that they themselves are missing.
Electrons exist in pairs, and free radicals are missing an electron.
This is their weapon of sorts: Free radicals “react” with just about anything they come into contact with, robbing cells and compounds of one of their electrons. This process makes the affected (“robbed”) cell or compound unable to function normally and turns some cells into electron-seeking muggers themselves, leading to a chain reaction in the body and the proliferation of even more free radicals.
The clean-up crew, our immune system’s “soldiers,” lose their control and end up marauding and pillaging throughout the body, destroying healthy cells and tissues.
What Is “Oxidative Stress,” and How Do Antioxidants Fit In?
Free radicals ultimately harm and age the body over time because they damage DNA, cellular membranes, lipids (fats) stored within blood vessels and enzymes. Normally, free radicals — or as they’re also commonly referred to, reactive oxygen species and reactive nitrogen species — live in balance with antioxidants in the body. It’s when this balance is disturbed, due to low intake of antioxidants and accumulation of free radicals, that accelerated ageing occurs.
The damage done by free radicals in the body is known as oxidation:
- Oxidation is the same process that browns an apple or rusts metal. Rampaging free radicals react with compounds in the body and oxidise them. The amount of oxidation in the body is a measure of oxidative stress.
- High levels of oxidative stress affect every organ and system in the body and have been linked with everything from Alzheimer’s disease, arteriosclerosis, cancer and heart disease to accelerated ageing, asthma, diabetes and leaky gut syndrome. Oxidative stress is believed to lead to the development of the most prevalent chronic diseases and disorders killing adults today, especially heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
- Oxidation lays the foundation for the proliferation of free radicals and damage to cells, muscles, tissue, organs, etc.
Antioxidants counteract free radicals because they’re essentially “self-sacrificing soldiers.” As Dr Bhatt explains, they donate an electron to free radicals to “calm” them down and are consumed in the process.
Major Sources of Free Radicals
So what causes free radicals to proliferate?
Basically, the typical “Western lifestyle” — with its processed foods, absence of healthy whole foods, reliance on medications and antibiotics, common use of alcohol or drugs, environmental pollutants, and high stress levels.
Free radicals are generated due to oxidation and when toxins are broken down in the body. The liver produces free radicals as it breaks down compounds and removes them.
The major sources of free radicals include:
- Ordinary body functions, such as breathing and digestion
- Exposure to radiation
- Exposure to other environmental pollutants
- Consumption of cigarettes or tobacco, drugs, and alcohol
- Certain medications or high use of antibiotics, which leads to antibiotic resistance
- A poor diet that includes foods like unhealthy fats, too much sugar, pesticides, herbicides or synthetic additives. Many processed and refined foods contain oxidised fats that add free radicals to the body. Excessive amounts of sugar and sweeteners are other sources of free radical growth that contribute to ageing, weight gain and inflammation.
- Even too much exercise (overtraining) generates added free radicals
- High amounts of emotional or physical stress. Stress hormones (like too much cortisol) can generate free radicals.
1. Slow the Effects of Ageing by Reducing Free Radical Damage
As described above, the single most important benefit of antioxidants is counteracting free radicals found inside every human body, which are very destructive to things like tissue and cells. Free radicals are responsible for contributing to many health issues and have connections to such diseases as cancer and premature ageing of the skin or eyes.
What do free radicals do exactly, and why are they so destructive?
The body uses antioxidants to prevent itself from the damage caused by oxygen. Electrons exist in pairs; free radicals are missing an electron.
This is their weapon of sorts. They “react” with just about anything they come into contact with, robbing cells and compounds of one of their electrons.
This makes the effected cell or compound unable to function and turns some cells into “electron-seeking muggers,” leading to a chain reaction in the body and the proliferation of free radicals. Free radicals damage DNA, cellular membranes and enzymes.
2. Protect Vision and Eye Health
3. Reduce the Effects of Ageing on the Skin
4. Help Prevent Stroke and Heart Disease
5. Help Reduce Risk of Cancer
6. Can Help Prevent Cognitive Decline
7. May Protect Against Diabetes
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