February 8, 2013 Antioxidant and Free Radicals (Part 1 of 5)
In this part we’re going to cover what are antioxidants and free radicals, some background information and how antioxidants can improve your health and where to find them.
And just a little heads up… fighting off free radicals is one of the many anti-aging secrets. By the end you’ll know what the benefits are of an antioxidant and free radicals and what you can do to keep your health up.
So what is an antioxidant and free radicals?
To keep things simple, think of a story. Every story has a good guy and a bad guy. The bad guy in this story are the free radicals and the good guy is the antioxidants.
Free radicals are the little things which can cause damage to your cells, either by “breaking into” the outer protective layer or by “stealing” from other healthy cells.
Damage to your cells can cause damage to your organs, and damage to your organs can lead to serious health conditions (i.e. Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease, inflammation).
You may be thinking, “Oh come on now… is it really possible for such a little thing to be able to cause this much damage?”
The Detective’s Determination: An unfortunate yes.
It’s interesting to know that not all free radicals are bad for you. Your body needs some free radicals in order to function normally. Free radicals are needed to create melanin, which is what gives skin its color.
Why would our bodies even create such a harmful thing in the first place?
If you’re a normal, living human being that means chemical reactions are taking place in your body to produce energy to stay alive. And one of the side effects of these chemical reactions (to keep us alive, must I remind you) are free radicals.
Some examples include when we metabolize food, whenever we breathe, and produce oxygen.
There is also another free radical contribution to the body and it deals with the immune system. The immune system will create and use free radicals on purpose in order to neutralize viruses and bacteria.
These are just a few internal causes of free radicals.
For the most part free radicals can cause a lot of irreversible damage to the body.
Before we get into how to prevent free radical damage let’s cover some background info first…
A little background information on antioxidant and free radicals
Free radicals were first discovered by Dr. Denham Harman in 1954. He used his knowledge in human biology and ionization radiation to conclude that free radicals are the cause behind premature aging and various degenerative diseases.
A common example of free radicals at work is when you get a sunburn. Radiation from the sun contacts the skin. As more radiation hits the skin, the radiation causes mild “mutations” which basically means it’s creating more free radicals & damage.
The redness you see afterwords occurs from a combination of the body trying to heal itself and free radical accumulation.
So when doctors talk about staying out of the sun to reduce the effects of aging, they’re basically referring to decreasing the amount of free radicals (which are caused by the sun’s radiation in this case).
And to go a little deeper, one of the main causes of cancer is due to increasing amounts of free radical damage to healthy cells.
Now we get to ask ourselves is there one kind of “free radical”?
Good question because there are many different kinds, or species, of free radicals. The most common, and damaging, category of free radicals we deal with are the ones involving oxygen. These are called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS).
Below is a list of the different types of free radical species (this will be covered more in Part 2):
No need to worry about memorizing any names. It’s just for your understanding and to make sure the skeptics know that free radicals exist and can do some serious damage to the body.
If free radicals are damaging to our bodies and there are different kinds of free radicals, what can we do to stop them?
This is where antioxidants come in
And just as there are different types of free radicals, there are also different types of antioxidants.
Some of the sources include:
- Food sources – blueberries, pomegranate, goji berries, carrots
- Vitamin sources – Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Selenium
- And other sources you may not be familiar with such as resveratrol, lycopene, nigella sativa, turmeric, cinnamon
Something else to consider is that each antioxidant has a specific role or function for your body. Just like how doctors specialize, antioxidants “specialize” in certain areas of the body.
For example, Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that protects the plasma in your body (which is found in the blood).
I go over the specifics of each type of antioxidant in Part 4 of this series.
Part 4 – How Free Radicals Were Discovered (and The Different Types of Antioxidants To Fight Them)