Having the right information cannot be overemphasized. It is with the right information and knowledge you can make the right decisions, otherwise, you would be oblivious of the right steps to take. It is important to understand what free radicals are and what free radical activity entails as this will put you in the best position to take care of yourself.
In chemistry, many molecules have electrons that are paired. This means those electrons are not left to be on their own. There are some other molecules that are not paired. These molecules which are not paired are unstable because they are unpaired. As a result of this, they are constantly in search of molecules or atoms to bind themselves to so they can become stable. These unstable molecules are called radicals – free radicals.
Because of the nature of these free radicals, they are also very reactive, they can donate an electron and also receive an electron. Hence, they can act as oxidants or act as reactants – this is simply a term that describes giving or taking electrons in chemical reactions. Free radicals react with other electrons and this reaction is generally termed oxidation.
In the body, free radicals exist as well. They come off as by-products of the body when certain chemical reactions take place in the body which turns the food a person takes into energy. The body needs this energy to do even the most basic of things. The body needs the energy to think, walk, talk, and everything you can think of which your body does. This means no matter what happens since the body must convert food to energy, free radicals must be given off. However, when these free radicals become too much, it can lead to a condition called oxidative stress.
Another way free radicals exist in the body is when the body comes in contact with toxic environments like the smoke from tobacco, air pollution, radon, and also from ultraviolet rays. This will be discussed later. Free radicals do not stay for a long time in the human body, in fact, they only have a fraction of a second to exist but within that short time, they can damage a lot in the body. They can lead to mutations of the DNA which could cause cancer or several heart diseases.
Why are free radicals bad?
Free radicals are not exclusively bad, what your body needs is just a balance between free radicals and antioxidants. Anything outside of that is what is bad.
Here is what happens – most electrons are stable, such that they are paired. This means they do not need to donate an electron or receive one. Free radicals are not that way, they are also reactive. This means that they need much energy before they can take any shape. With this, they have the capacity to destroy cells in the body.
Cells in the body use oxygen to generate energy, when the food taken by the body has been broken down into energy for the body’s use, free radicals are created. This free radical is created after ATP (adenosine triphosphate) has been produced by the mitochondria. When oxygen is in the body, it splits
into atoms that have electrons that are not paired. Normally, electrons like to be paired but since this one is not paired, it goes around molecules searching for where it can be paired. If this happens, it can become dangerous for the body, and DNA functions can be impaired which can lead to mutations. The membranes of cells can be destroyed and cells can be easily affected by pathogens and diseases.
Free radical reactions are responsible for most diseases which involve a downward spiral and loss of function of organs and tissues. This is bad for the body. Aging has also been found to be a result of free radical activity in the body. Free radicals have a very short life span but in that short time, they can cause a lot of damage to the body.
And this is where antioxidants come in.
Antioxidants on the other hand can donate an electron without becoming unstable, unlike free radicals. When they donate this electron, the free radical is no longer a free radical because it becomes stable and stops seeking an electron to bond to. With this, stability has been achieved and diseases are no longer in view. You can say that the antioxidant calms the free radical.
When there is an imbalance between the antioxidants and free radicals, it leads to what is called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress triggers reactions that negatively affect the DNA and increases the risk of you having certain diseases. Oxidative stress follows suit with inflammation. Yes, inflammation is the body’s way of responding to attacks on it, it is also behind many diseases.
There are certain antioxidant-rich foods, these foods help boost your immune system and keep you healthy. They prevent you from the harmful effects of free radicals. Although most of it depends on your lifestyle. You may need to incorporate a general lifestyle change to see results.
Where are free radicals found?
Of course, free radical activity does not just occur in the body from thin air, it has to have an origin. That is what I will share explicitly with you here.
We can split this into two – Those found naturally (in the body) and those found externally (outside the body).
For those found naturally, we have metabolic functions (metabolism) which have already been explained above – when the food taken by the body has been broken down into energy for the body’s use, free radicals are created. This free radical is created after ATP (adenosine triphosphate) has been produced by the mitochondria.
Exercise: This is also a natural way free radicals occur in the body. So you might ask – since free radicals are bad for the most part, and they are released when you exercise then you should stop exercising? The answer is no. That is not what should happen. The beautiful thing is as long as you exercise regularly, antioxidant defenses are also built up so it checks out. It only becomes a problem if you only exercise once in a while
Stress: Stress on the human body is also where free radicals are found. During the events of stress, there is an increase in demand for energy which leads to an increase in the intake of oxygen needed for respiration. This causes free radicals to be released.
Infection and inflammation can also lead to an increase in free radicals in the body.
External factors on the other hand include – smoke from cigarettes, air pollution, pesticides, radiation, chemicals that emanate from industries, and even the ozone layer. You can take care of your body by exercising regularly, your diet can also help fight free radicals. Remember you have just one life to live, live it healthy and to the fullest.