Health and wellness are more important to most of us now than ever before. In light of the recent changes to the world and how we live now as opposed to how we lived just a few brief months ago, people are in search of ways to stay healthy in these uncertain times.
Gaining knowledge about one’s health and taking proper care to maintain physical wellness are wonderful endeavors to embark on. Unfortunately, there happens to be a lot of information to cover because the human body is so complex, so starting at square one can feel overwhelming at times.
The food that we eat, the activities we participate in, how we feel, and other environmental factors affect our bodies. While some result in physical pain, pleasure, or chemical changes in the body that we can feel, other changes are more subtle but can have more detrimental effects.
Free radicals are the unseen offenders that can potentially wreak havoc on our bodies. These silent killers are most commonly associated with their role in cancer cell production.
What Are Free Radicals?
A free radical is a type of atom or molecule that is produced as a byproduct of the normal changes(1) that occur in cells. Metabolism, the natural aging process, or outside environmental elements are some of the changes that can cause free radicals to form.
Some of the external environmental contributors(2) to free radical production are:
- Radiation (X-Rays)
- Cigarette smoke
- Environmental pollutants
The normal cell processes and environmental factors that produce free radicals are partially responsible for cellular damage in the body. The free radical molecules are extremely reactive with other cells because they contain an unpaired electron, making them volatile.
When an atom or group of atoms contains an electron that is not paired, it becomes more reactionary with the cells around it and will try to pair up with a neighboring molecule to steal an electron to pair with.
The molecule that the free radical steals an electron from then is harboring an unpaired electron. That molecule is now a free radical due to the unpaired electron. That new free radical then goes to steal an electron from another molecule, and the cycle continues. If the body becomes overrun with free radicals then oxidative stress is produced.
At lower levels, free radicals can have beneficial effects on immune function and cellular responses. It’s when the levels are too high that damaging oxidative stress occurs.
Lipids, proteins, and DNA can all be altered by oxidative stress. These alterations are what lead to many diseases(3) in humans.
Are Free Radicals Harmful?
The most common disease that is associated with free radicals is cancer.
The rapid overproduction of free radicals in the body can produce oxidative stress that is damaging to cells, tissues, and organs. The damage to DNA caused by free radicals is thought to contribute to the growth of cancerous cells. When these damaged cells begin to replicate at rates faster than the body can combat, there is an increased potential for not only cancer but other oxidative stress-related illnesses(4) too.
Oxidative stress has been linked to the development of other chronic illnesses(5) such as arthritis, aging, autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular, and neurodegenerative diseases.
How To Fight Free Radicals
Antioxidants are the frontline for the body’s war on free radicals. Known as “free radical scavengers”, antioxidants scour the body for damage caused by free radicals. The antioxidants repair or destroy cells that have been damaged by free radicals. By removing the potentially harmful cells, antioxidants improve the immune system’s ability to respond to threats.
An enhanced immune defense also helps to lower the likelihood of cancer and other degenerative diseases.
So what exactly are antioxidants? They’re basically the cleaners for our damaged cells. These defenders of health are responsible for stopping the electron theft that free radicals partake in by giving electrons to free radicals while not succumbing to turning into a free radical themselves, thus breaking the cycle of electron theft.
While a properly balanced diet(7) is the foundation for any healthful pursuit, sometimes it’s difficult to get to the suggested amounts of vitamins and minerals from just the foods that we eat.
Supplementing your diet with vitamins that you’re not getting enough of from food alone is one of the easiest ways to boost your nutrient intake in the fight against free radicals.
Free radicals are always present in our bodies because they occur naturally as a byproduct of normal bodily functions. The key to keeping free radicals in check is to make sure that they don’t run amuck and overburden the body. Maintaining a healthy balance of free radicals and antioxidants can help your body reduce oxidative stress and improve your ability to fight off illnesses.