The terms free radicals, antioxidants, glutathione peroxidase, superoxides, superoxide dismutase, oxidants, and lipid peroxy radicals sound foreign and complex. What do they really have to do with health? In the next few posts I will attempt to break down and guide you through this terminology.
To begin with you may have heard that these words have to do with causing cancer, heart disease, cataracts, macular degeneration, premature aging, suppressing the immune system, Parkinson’s, arthritis, male infertility, multiple slcerosis, Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune diseases.
What are free radicals and oxidant particles? The terms are basically interchangeable and describe incomplete and unstable molecules. Molecules are the basic building blocks in nature, such as fatty acids, oxygen, and amino acids. Normal molecules have electrons in pairs, electrons hold molecules together.
Let’s use the oxygen molecule as an example. The oxygen molecule has four pairs of electrons. If the molecule loses one of its electrons it becomes a free radical. A free radical or oxidant particle that has for one reason or another lost an electron becomes unbalanced and looks to replace the missing electron. It will go so far as to steal an electron from another molecule, injuring or even killing it, which in turn steals an electron from another molecule and so on, damaging more and more cells. Antioxidants come in and neutralize free radicals.
Our bodies produce free radicals all the time as a natural process of our cells using oxygen. There is no problem as long as there is a balance of antioxidants to free radicals in our system. When our bodies fall out of balance there is nothing to stop the hungry charge of free radicals as they seek to replace what they have lost and as a result many enzyme systems are affected.
It is estimated that 80%-90% of all degenerative diseases involve free radical activity. Antioxidants lessen free radical damage. The list is growing daily on the studies which have identified more than 60 health conditions that may be prevented or treated with antioxidant supplementation.
The major antioxidant nutrients are vitamin E, C, and beta-carotene or vitamin A. These antioxidants fight the aging process which happens as a result of free radicals breaking through cell membranes. Once inside they can damage the DNA of the cell causing the cell to malfunction, adversely affecting future generations; possibly even turning them cancerous.
In the next few posts I will explain about antioxidant systems and how these antioxidants can help.
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Filed under: Antioxidants
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