We've all heard of free radicals before, but what are they, exactly? According to dictionary.com, a free radical is "an atom or molecule that has an unpaired electron and is therefore unstable, capable of causing chain reactions, that destabilize other molecules and generate more free radicals."
In other words, they're unstable little buggers that can cause all sorts of damage if they're not kept in check.
Luckily, our bodies have built-in mechanisms for dealing with them - but it's still important to be aware of free radicals and their effects.
Not to mention, many of our modern-day habits lead to the accumulation of free radicals, so it is also essential to take these out of the equation.
So read on, and next time someone mentions free radicals, you'll be able to sound like you know what you're talking about!
What Exactly Are Free Radicals?
So as you just learned, free radicals are atoms and molecules that have an unpaired electron.
Due to their instability, each free radical can seamlessly latch onto other molecules in the body.
As a matter of fact, a free radical will always choose the closest molecule to latch on to and take its electron, and that same molecule, in turn, becomes a free radical.
So you see, once this process has started, it can grow into a hardly controllable chain reaction and cause many negative changes in the organism.
Now, free radicals are naturally found in the body, but the thing is that just like anything else if there’s too much of it, that will likely lead to some damage!
So What Leads To Free Radicals?
This ‘surplus’ of free radicals that we said can be quite damaging can be caused by a variety of factors, such as environmental and habitual factors.
When we’re talking pro-free radical factors, think:
- Tobacco smoking
- Environmental air pollution
- Processed foods
Now, it’s important to remember that a surplus of free radicals changes the way that cells function, thus damaging lipids, proteins, and even DNA.
Damaged DNA can significantly impair the immune system, leading to the possible development of a variety of diseases.
The best-case scenario is that you won’t develop any serious conditions but will age rather quickly.
And that, too, isn’t something we want!
The Defense System - Antioxidants
Alright, what we learned so far hints that free radicals are like an evil army trying to destroy the organism.
And we know for a fact that the organism itself can recognize such things and act against them.
In this case, the body's defense system against free radicals is built on the foundation of antioxidants!
Essentially, antioxidants are protective substances that help neutralize the potentially damaging effect of free radicals.
As the name suggests, antioxidants buffer the oxidative reactions inside of the cells.
Now, the body naturally produces some powerful antioxidants, such as alpha-lipoic acid and glutathione, but it’s important to remember that food also provides a flurry of antioxidants.
Essentially, the primary food-derived antioxidants are:
- Vitamins A, C, E
An important thing to remember is that the body would naturally control the free radical production and its neutralizing in normal conditions.
However, in our modern-day cities, the conditions are everything else but normal, which implies that we should aim to minimize environmental and habitual factors while also focusing on macro and micronutrient-rich foods.
Both of these combined will ensure that our bodies thrive in the best environment possible while also getting all the nutrients needed to recover, grow and fight off any unwanted free radicals!
Here are our favorite sources of antioxidants:
- Multivitamin supplements
Free radicals are the bad guys of your body. They cause damage to cells and DNA, but they can be neutralized with antioxidants.
You can't eliminate them, but you should know how to minimize their effects.
So listen, if you want to age gracefully and live a healthy and happy life, avoid bad habits, breathe fresh air and eat plenty of nutrient-rich foods!
Oh, and stay tuned to our blog as we post more content to help you live your best life!