What Are Free Radicals?
Essentially they are molecules with an electron missing. As you may remember from high school biology or chemistry, our cells are composed of molecules which are comprised of atoms. Atoms consist of a nucleus, neutrons, protons and electrons. Protons are positively charged particles in the atom’s nucleus; and the number of protons determines the number of electrons, which are negatively charged particles that surround the atom. Free radicals are unstable molecules in our cells – a missing electron from the atom’s “orbit” is what causes the instability. These out-of-sorts molecules try to become “whole” again by seeking out other molecules and structures in our bodies where they can help themselves to an electron and become stable again. But after they steal an electron, the tissue where they stole the electron from is left damaged. But if every molecule that has lost an electron wants to “steal” it from another area in the body, problems start if it isn’t controlled.
Where Do Free Radicals Come From?
It is normal for all of us to have free radicals in our bodies – the problem is if we have too many. Too many free radicals will accelerate aging and lead to all sorts of negative health problems. In small and controlled quantities, free radicals are okay – they are just a part of everyday metabolism and normal reactions in the body. What are some of the causes of free radicals occurring in our bodies?
- Breathing oxygen – oxidation is unavoidable! Oxidation inside our bodies occurs much like rust happens on a car. So long as we breathe oxygen there will be oxidation in our bodies and thus the creation of free radicals. Oxidation happens as part of our normal metabolism.
- Detoxification – the liver creates free radicals as part of its process of detoxification.
- Environmental factors such as pollution, herbicides, medications and xenoestrogens (chemical compounds which imitate estrogen) can also spawn free radicals.
- When we break down food into usable energy, a side effect is the creation of free radicals.
- When our immune system is working to fight off bacteria and viruses, free radicals are created.
Free radicals are unavoidable, but problems start only when they increase uncontrollably. Evidence is very compelling that many diseases are related to oxidative damage caused by free radicals. The very term ‘free radicals’ conjures up images of marauding, anarchic molecules rampaging through our bodies (which they do).
How To Neutralize Free Radicals
But there is a simple, easy way to fight off and protect our bodies from out-of-control free radicals. Antioxidants! Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicals. They are produced naturally within our bodies – glutathione is a major antioxidant produced in the body that neutralizes free radicals. Sadly, we are exposed to never-ending environmental pollution and toxins so that often our bodies produce more free radicals than we have internal antioxidants to neutralize them. Our bodies then become prone to inflammation. Inflammation can then lead to a state of chronic disease.
A diet focused on antioxidants can make a big difference on the way to getting a healthy body that’s in balance. Antioxidants are most frequently found in bright colored fruits and vegetables such as:
- Orange colored foods like sweet potatoes, carrots and pumpkin,
- Broccoli and dark leafy lettuces like spinach,
- Berries (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries),
- Red wine (bonus) and dark chocolate (another bonus),
- Super foods with a high antioxidant capacity such as Camu Camu and Acai.
Some of the above foods can be used to make a smoothie (ie spinach and berries). However you choose to get more antioxidants into your body, an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant eating strategy will get your free radicals back in balance.