Fighting Free Radicals
So, exactly what is a free radical? Picture, if you will, an atom that has a nucleus with electrons around it. As electrons circle the nucleus, they are usually paired. When an electron becomes unpaired, it tries to pull an electron from another atom or molecule in order to return to a state of equilibrium. Free radicals are simply atoms with unpaired electrons. Free radicals are very aggressive, and as they steal electrons from other atoms, they damage cells in the process. They damage cell membranes and nuclear membranes, and eventually may damage the DNA in the nucleus of the cell. Also, when free radicals steal electrons from other atoms, these atoms become free radicals themselves, leading to a chain reaction. A vicious cycle can be created, leading to damage and destruction of cells and eventually to chronic diseases.
Now, free radicals are generated in our bodies simply by breathing. Normal metabolism creates free radicals referred to as reactive oxygen species (ROS). Just as smoke comes from a fire, free radicals come from the normal metabolism and production of energy in the mitochondria of our bodies. Foods - including hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats; excessive amounts of polyunsaturated fats found in salad dressings, cooking oils, sauces, gravies, and so on - will also create excessive free radicals.
Many diseases are inflammatory and are creating tremendous amounts of free radicals, including most cancers, arthritis, coronary artery disease, asthma, Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and colitis. Frequent colds, flu, sinus infections, bronchitis, and bladder and yeast infections create more free radicals. Trauma from sprains, strains, muscle aches, and even excessive exercise creates a tremendous amount of free radicals. That is why those who over-train, as well as long-distance runners and marathoners, appear to actually age faster.
And finally there is our toxic exposure. Unfortunately, no one is exempt. These are pesticides and other toxins in our food, water, and air, and these toxins create an added burden on the liver. In the detoxification process by the liver, more free radicals are produced, and the toxic burden may be so great that the liver is unable to keep up with detoxification. These toxins increase in the body, which causes the production of more free radicals. Inhaling side stream smoke and car exhaust, drinking tap water with chlorine and all the other chemicals, eating the standard American diet laced with chemicals and inflammatory foods - these are all producing a flood of free radicals that are causing diseases, which create even more free radicals. It becomes a vicious cycle of ever-increasing free radicals. Unfortunately, Americans who are prescribed medicines that turn off symptoms yet create a greater burden on the liver, actually cause more free radicals to be produced.
The answer to free radicals is simple: antioxidants. Antioxidants have the ability to neutralize free radicals. Antioxidants are to free radicals what water is to a raging forest fire burning out of control. Of course, it also involves choosing more living foods, detoxification, and the other pillars of health. But antioxidants are the most important key for the free-radical riddle.
Just think about what happens when you squeeze lemon juice on an exposed slice of apple. The Vitamin C and Bioflavonoid Antioxidants in the lemon quench free radicals, slowing down the oxidation process, which means it takes much longer for the apple slice to turn brown. That's why antioxidants are usually added to processed food - to prevent oxygen from combining with different food components. Without them, many processed foods would become stale, rancid, or inedible.
Researchers have known for years that there are literally thousands of different compounds that function as antioxidants. Many are found in food and supplements, and others are actually produced by our bodies. That's right, our bodies have developed a powerful army of antioxidants that neutralize free radicals. By consuming living foods containing powerful antioxidants and phytonutrients, taking specific antioxidant supplements, and supporting our own antioxidants produced by our bodies, we will be able to quench many free-radical reactions."
(Don Colbert, MD. The Seven Pillars of Health pg. 198, 199, 200)