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Free Radicals vs Antioxidants


There have been many stories, news articles and research talking about free radicals in recent years. What are they and why should we care? To explain, I will need to review a little bit of chemistry. We have the periodic table of elements, right? Each element on the period table has a certain molecular weight, atomic number, and valence electrons (the ones in the outer orbital that can react with other electrons on other atoms). Remember what the structure of an atom looks like? It has the nucleus which has positively charged and neutral particles together in the center, then the negatively charged electrons spin around the nucleus.

So here is an atom on the right that has all the electrons it is supposed to have. It is happy. It is stable. It is not looking to take an electron from his friend. Or another atom over there. It is just content to go about its business and do its job. He might form bonds with his neighbors, but he is not a thief.


There is also a free radical on the left. See how it’s missing an electron? Free radicals are unstable, highly reactive, and looking to steal an electron from another unsuspecting atom. He is a bully. Unfortunately, when this guy is around, he can cause damage (especially inside our bodies). The damage he causes can change the structure of whatever he steals the electron from. He can damage DNA, proteins, or lipids, which can lead to damage to organs and organ systems, chronic inflammation, cancer, and atherosclerosis (damage to the blood vessels).

Exposure to things like X-rays, ozone, fried foods, cigarette smoking, air pollution, or industrial chemicals can create free radicals. There are also some natural body processes that can create free radicals. It is these free radicals that lead to premature aging of our cells. So, what can we do? Antioxidants (more about that in a moment).


There is another term that is used: oxidative stress. This is used to describe the imbalance of free radical formation and the antioxidant defenses. Oxidative stress has been linked to complications in diabetes, age-related eye diseases, and neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Oxidative stress has also been linked to arthritis, lupus, respiratory diseases, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, gastric ulcers, and more! So…that’s probably why we should care. Ok. So, what can we do about it. Ah, yes. Antioxidants. What are those?


Antioxidants are these fabulous molecules that have enough stability to donate an electron and stay stable. They can give the bully free radical one of their electrons and reduce its ability to cause damage. Some of our natural antioxidants include glutathione, ubiquinol (Co-enzyme Q10), and uric acid. Some we can get from our diet. Vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta-carotene are excellent antioxidants.

Remember, food is medicine. By consuming foods full of antioxidants, they can scavenge for the free radicals and reduce the damage they can cause. By reducing the damage by free radicals, we can potentially avoid, delay, or even reverse certain chronic health conditionswhat foods should you focus on?

Blueberries, dark chocolate, artichokes, pecans, strawberries, red cabbage, raspberries, beans, purple or red grapes, spinach, beets, citrus fruits, and kale are full of antioxidants. Also look for orange vegetables, which are full of beta-carotene, like sweet potatoes, carrots, acorn squash or butternut squash. Did you notice all the colorful fruits and vegetables? Like I have said before, eat the rainbow! They will give you so many wonderful health benefits including slowing the aging process, reducing your risk for cancer, and reducing chronic inflammation!


Are you ready to PIVOT to functional health and wellness?


Image: Free Radical - SES Research Inc. - SES Research Inc.

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