What Are Free Radicals?
Free radicals are molecules, atoms or ions that contain an unpaired electron inside them, making them highly reactive and unstable. They can alter the fundamental structure of molecules or DNA by stealing their electrons in a process called oxidation.
A single unbalanced molecule might not seem like anything to worry about, but oxidation can actually set off a chain reaction, which could end up damaging a cell's structure, DNA, and ability to function properly. As time goes by, the cumulative damage of oxidation can contribute to aging and a number of different degenerative diseases.
Where Do Free Radicals Come From?
There are many kinds of free radicals, but the ones which health professionals are most concerned with are ones which contain oxygen within them, known as the reactive oxygen species (ROS). During cellular metabolism, oxygen in your body is used to convert food into energy, and these free radicals are synthesized as a result of this process.
It's practically impossible to avoid free radicals being formed in the above way, however, there are also many other sources of free radicals, such as inflammation, illness, stress, and aging. Your environment also plays a part in generating free radicals, such as through pollution, alcohol, toxic metals, radiation, cigarette smoke, industrial chemicals, and certain medications.
At relatively low levels, free radicals don't really pose much of a threat to your wellbeing. However, if free radicals end up overwhelming your body, it can lead to oxidative stress, which can cause you a lot of problems.
What Is Oxidative Stress?
Oxidative stress is the oxidative damage that is caused by an imbalance between your body’s store of antioxidants and the presence of any free radicals. According to the free radical theory of aging (FRTA), aging occurs due to an accumulation of free radical damage to our DNA and cells.
This theory states that such cumulative damage to our connective tissue and cell components leads to a decrease in physical capacity, wrinkles, a weaker immune system, and even death. It also claims that oxidative stress can end up causing arthritis, hypertension, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, and even Alzheimer's disease.
How Do Antioxidants Deal With Free Radicals?
Free radicals scour your body looking for electrons to steal, and they aren't picky about where they come from. In order to combat this blatant thievery, antioxidants provide free radicals with an electron, thereby stabilizing them without any harmful effects to your body. What's unique about antioxidants is the fact that they still remain stable, despite donating one of their electrons, making them the perfect solution for ridding your body of free radicals.
In order to get the best results possible, you should try to incorporate as many different types of antioxidants into your diet as possible. The most popular ones include anthocyanins, polyphenols, curcuminoids, beta-carotene, lycopene, vitamin c, vitamin e, and selenium. You can either carefully plan out your daily meals to include different types of antioxidants, or else you might want to consider purchasing natural supplements from your local health food shop.
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