I take for granted that most people are aware of free radicals, how they form, and the antidote for them. But it occurred to me the other day that there are a lot of people who probably DON’T know. This is important, life enhancing knowledge, and I want to do my part to educate as many people as possible… so here goes!
A free radical is a molecule missing an electron from its outer shell. We all remember from high school chemistry that atoms like to have that outer shell filled and will do just about anything to accomplish that, including stealing electrons from their neighbors. Because free radicals are lacking an electron, they are highly “reactive,” meaning their stealing creates havoc, basically. When free radicals steal to complete their own outer shells, the molecule they stole from becomes a free radical which is now in the same position of lacking and trying to steal. So a chain reaction is begun.
Some free radicals are formed naturally during metabolism, and the body generally can cope with these on a limited scale. Others are formed by the body’s immune system in order to neutralize viruses and bacteria that have invaded the body. Free radicals are also formed when the body is exposed to pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke, and herbicides. The damage to living cells (oxidative stress) is cumulative–thus as we age we are less able to combat the negative effects of free radicals.
Some negative effects of free radicals:
Antioxidants are the body’s defense against the damage of free radicals. They protect the body from damage by neutralizing the free radicals. They are able to donate an electron from their outer shell without becoming reactive themselves. Pretty cool! They thereby create a new, stable atom and neutralize the threat of damage to cells. Scavengers, they are sent out to circulate and round up free radicals before they can wreak havoc. Fat and water soluble antioxidants work synergistically (better together), so there must be both present in the body for adequate defenses.
Some antioxidants you’ve probably heard of:
Fat soluble–Vitamin E (the most abundant fat soluble antioxidant in the body), Vitamin A, beta-carotenes, and CoQ10.
Water soluble–glutathione, lipoic acid, and Vitamin C
One of the newest antioxidants to be discovered is astaxanthin. It is purported to be significantly more powerful than even Vitamin E or any other antioxidant. It is in the caretenoid family (these nutrients are responsible for the bright colors of foods such as beets, yellow bell peppers, carrots, and some animals such as salmon and flamingoes), therefore fat soluble. There are two known natural sources of astaxanthiin–microalgae and krill.
While all antioxidants provide a plethora of benefits, astaxanthin is notable for its wide range of protection: It boosts immune function, increases HDL (the “good” cholesterol), greatly protects the eyes from cataracts and macular degeneration, crosses the blood-brain barrier and is noted for protecting the brain from dementia, reduces cancer risk by stimulating cancer cell death, is a potent anti-inflammatory, improves endurance, stabilizes blood sugar, improves fertility, protects the body from UVB rays and radiation, and that’s the short list!
So that’s my primer on free radicals and antioxidants. You can see why ensuring your daily intake of antioxidants is vital, especially in the often stressful, polluted environments we inhabit. Let’s do our best to take care of our bodies so they last a long, long time. Until next time, be well.
To your health!
Annie RN, MSN