What's so bad about excess free radicals?
Free radicals are atoms, molecules or ions with unpaired electrons. Radicals can start a chain reaction and damage important cellular components such as DNA or cell membranes. Cells may function poorly or die. Not all free radicals are harmful so the danger lies in excess free radicals or those that are formed, for example, from over-exposure to oxidation, ionizing radiation (UV, radiation, et. al.) and radioactivity. The body’s defense against excess free radicals is the antioxidant. The antioxidant will scavenge the free radical or donate an electron to neutralize it.
When the body’s antioxidant levels are not sufficient to combat excess free radicals, the imbalance causes oxidative stress. Synthetic antioxidants have been tested and reported to be dangerous for human health. So, we arrive back at the necessity of eating good foods full of nutrients, rather than popping pills.
Oxidative stress likely contributes to a host of disease conditions including all inflammatory diseases.
Inflammation (as well as other internal conditions) will disrupt the balance of free radicals, as will external substances and conditions, such as:
- Cigarette smoke
- Drugs (some) and pesticides
- Environmental pollutants
- Industrial solvents
Free radical damage in the body contributes to premature aging (although aging contributes to free radical damage because of increased oxidative stress that occurs naturally with aging). The best defense the excess free radical is the mighty antioxidant. Currently, the best defenses against premature aging and lifestyle diseases are diet, exercise, quality sleep, and low stress.