What Are Free Radicals?
Anyone who can recall high school chemistry would answer it easily that any atom or molecule which loses its electron becomes unstable (or oxidized) and the atom or molecule with unpaired electron in its outer orbit is called a free radical. These free radicals are extremely reactive and short lived since they aggressively try to combine (or react) with surrounding molecules. While discussing everyday health issues, the word free radical is abundantly used these days as one of the reasons for various health ailments including premature aging, arthritis, Alzheimer, Cardiac problems, etc.
The various metabolic processes which take place in our bodies involve complex chemical reactions. The digestive enzymes, the hormonal secretions, and other cellular activities in our body are replete with various chemical exchanges, and free radicals are primarily produced in the body as byproducts of these activities. Once a free radical is formed, it reacts with other “healthy” atoms or molecules of surrounding cells. This makes the healthy cell unstable (secondary free radical) and a chain reaction sets in which can have the detrimental effect on the body in the long term. The chain reaction process when interferes with genetic DNA molecular arrangements can cause genetic mutation as well, and the impact is more severe.
Nature has also provided the mechanism to produce antioxidants in our bodies which neutralize the free radicals. However, when the quantum of free radicals increases beyond a point that the antioxidants produced naturally cannot mitigate, the cumulative damage caused by free radicals over time becomes evident. It will be important to point out here that the presence of free radicals, within permissible limits, is also believed to be helpful in counteracting and controlling foreign bodies like virus which enter our body through food or pollutants.
The scientific community started researching upon the effect of free radicals in the human body some seven decades back and since then the “Free radical theory of aging” has been modified and stands considerably evolved. Numerous studies have concluded that the free radicals have a role in the process of aging and its related ailments. Now it is accepted that the damages caused by free radicals is linked to various ailments like arthritis, atherosclerosis, diabetes, some types of cancers, etc. The medical fraternity is almost unanimous that controlling the free radicals is helpful in preventing the incidence of many diseases.
The rising environmental pollution and modern (read canned, frozen or instant) food habits have contributed significantly to expanding the menace caused due to free radicals. It has been studied that the presence of toxic compounds (from cigarette smoking, alcohol etc.) and heavy metals (from air/water pollutants like lead, cadmium, insecticides etc) in the body help the free radical chain reaction multiply exponentially. This has led to increasing in the reported problems due to free radical damage in the last few decades. The food rich in antioxidant properties like select natural fruits and vegetables with abundance of Vitamins (C, E and A) besides other select nutrition dietary supplements have been found effective in controlling free radicals in the body.