Free radicals are a natural consequence of oxidation resulting from the normal processes associated with metabolism and energy production - those vital processes that allow our body to function normally. Free Radicals are biological responses to many things in our environment such as smoking (cigarettes, e-Cigarettes, etc.), toxins in our food, water, and air, cosmic or manmade radiation, sunlight, pharmaceutical drugs, inflammation, and even exercise.
Free Radicals are not all bad - they actually play an important role in several biological processes, some of which are necessary for life, such as the intracellular killing of bacteria by neutrophil granulocytes. They have also been implicated in certain cell signaling processes. However, because of their high reactivity, free radicals often participate in unwanted side reactions resulting in cell damage
The Five Types
- Superoxide ion (O): An oxygen molecule with an extra electron that can damage mitochondria, DNA and other molecules.
- Hydroxyl radical (OH): A highly reactive molecule formed by the reduction of an oxygen molecule, capable of damaging almost any organic molecule in its vicinity, including carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and DNA. (OH) cannot be eliminated by an enzymatic reaction.
- Singlet oxygen: Formed by your immune system, singlet oxygen causes oxidation of your LDL.
- Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2): Not a free radical itself, but easily converts to free radicals like OH, which then do the damage. Hydrogen peroxide is neutralized by peroxidase (an enzymatic antioxidant).
- Reactive Nitrogen Species (RNS) (NO): Nitric acid is the most important RNS.
Many forms of cancer are thought to be the result of reactions between free radicals and DNA, resulting in mutations that can adversely affect the cell cycle and potentially lead to malignancy. Free Radicals are also associated with more than 60 diseases!
Scientists also have pointed to free radicals as the cause of some of the symptoms of aging, such as atherosclerosis, alcohol-induced liver damage, alpha 1-antitrypsin in the lung, and even emphysema.
Yes, free radicals are still necessary for life, but in order to prevent yourself from developing these diseases, you need to act in keeping free radicals at a minimum.
A Little Background on Chemical Bonding
When talking about antioxidant and free radicals, we can't help but touch a little on biochemistry. You probably remember from your old high school days that
the human body is composed of many different cells and each cell is composed of many different molecules. Molecules consist of one or more atoms of one or more elements joined together by chemical bonds.
A typical atom is comprised of a nucleus - neutrons, protons, and electrons. Electrons are those negatively charged particles that orbit the cluster of protons in an atom. When there are eight electrons in an orbit, it means that that orbit (or shell as it is called) is full which further means the atom is stable.
Stable atoms tend not to enter chemical reactions.
Because atoms seek to reach a state of maximum stability, an atom will try to fill its shell with electrons by:
• Gaining or losing electrons to either fill or empty its outer shell
• Sharing its electrons by bonding together with other atoms in order to complete its outer shell
Free Radicals: The Formation
The free radicals are formed when weak bonds between atoms are split. Free radicals contain an odd, unpaired electron which causes them to be very unstable and react quickly with other compounds. Because it is the nature of free radicals, which is basically an atom with an unpaired electron, to achieve stability, they will try to do so by capturing the needed electron from other molecules. When the free radicals steal electrons from a stable molecule, that molecule will become a free radical itself, beginning a chain reaction. Once the process of free radicals formation is started, it can cascade, finally resulting in the disruption of a living cell.
Fortunately for us, the body has a number of mechanisms to minimize free radical-induced damage and to repair the damage which does occur.
Make sure you keep your eyes open for those solutions to the Free Radical Balancing Act!
To Your Health,