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What are free-radicals?

Posted Jun 17 2010 5:00am

free-radicals

I heard here and there that antioxidants were the best thing to scavenge free-radicals.  However, what are those things? And more importantly, why are they so bad?

A free radical is a molecule with a free electron in its orbit.  To become stable, it strips an electron from another molecule.  So how is this bad for us?

The effects of free-radicals accumulation:

  • Blocks effects of enzymes
  • Disturbs the protein synthesis (essential to repair our DNA)
  • Oxidizes our antibodies
  • Accelerates ageing (including skin ageing)
  • Increases the risk of cells death
  • Oxidizes LDL (bad) cholesterol which leads to stiffening of arteries
  • Increases chronic inflammation

How do free-radicals works?

First, it’s important to know that’s impossible to get rid of all free-radicals.  Those molecules are produced within the body. When a free-radical strips an electron to a second molecule, the first molecule, once a free-radical, is now stable. But the second molecule, the one with the stripped electron, is now becoming a free-radical itself.  So molecules in the body are juggling with electrons, creating and stabilizing free-radicals.  It’s the accumulation of those molecules that creates problems.

How to protect us?

They key is to always give fresh new molecules from which free-radicals can strip an electron.  The juggling mustn’t stop.  For that we have to supply our body with we  call antioxidants .  Those substances includes:

  • enzymes (ex: glutathione )
  • vitamin E (in nuts and seeds)
  • vitamin C (in red pepper, citrus and other fruits)
  • betacarotene (in carrots, watermelon and other orange colored fruits and veggies)
  • lycopene (in tomato, papaya, watermelon and other red colored fruits and veggies)
  • flavonoids (in chocolate, red wine, berries, green tea and other superfoods)
  • chelating agents (ex: cilantro)
  • minerals and oligo-elements (iron, zinc, selenium, etc.)

The possible causes for an accumulation of free-radicals are a lack of minerals, pollution, nitrates, a lack in antioxidants and inflammation.  Choosing a natural lifestyle with a whole and unprocessed plant based diet including a variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables is a great way to prevent free-radicals accumulation.

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