Free Radicals and Their Consequences

by Matthew Hendricks

When foreign chemicals are ingested, or when oxygen is burnt in the body in the oxidation of carbohydrates and fats in order to produce energy, or during radiation, free radicals are formed in the body.

Free radicals are chemically reactive and potentially very harmful active intermediates formed during the above stated conditions.

Under normal conditions, when oxygen is burnt in the oxidation of fuel, 98 % of it is completely reduced to water. But the other 2 % is incompletely reduced to produce active free radicals with heightened chemical reactivity due to the presence of unpaired electrons.

The superoxide anion, hydroxy radical (OH) and hydrogen peroxide, and other peroxides are good examples of such active molecular species which in time may seriously damage tissue and cellular membranes.

Under these circumstances, fatty acids are oxidised to hydroperoxides which are an important source of free radicals in the body.

Cell membranes consist of lipid bilayers which are readily available targets for free radical attack during which the membrane structures are destroyed whilst at the same time more free radicals are generated - thus, free radical damage is a chain reaction, or self-propagating.

Unrefined, natural plant oils contain natural anti-oxidants such as vitamin E which counteract free radical activity. But in processed products, these anti-oxidants have been removed or are in too low concentrations. An example of this would be margarine.

So what does all this mean in simple terms?

Simply put, free radicals eat holes in cell membranes through which damaging foreign chemicals enter. If damage is done to cells lining joint tissue, arthritis will be accelerated. They damage many enzymes. More seriously, they damage the genetic material of the cells, and once this happens the cells get cancerous.

The body's defense against free radicals consists of certain enzymes, as well as certain chemical anti-oxidants which act in tandem with the enzymes. Glutathione may be one of the body's most important inti-oxidants, since it acts mainly inside cells and also because it is a powerful anti-oxidant.

Because all these components of the defence system react synergistically, taking a balanced supplement is advisable. A supplement containing all the anti-oxidant vitamins and minerals may be preferable to taking one vitamin or mineral alone.

Some of the vitamins and minerals required are: Molybdenum, Manganese, Magnesium, Zinc, Selenium, Beta-carotene, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E.

Furthermore, to fight free radical damage to your body, you must:

1. Eat fresh, unpreserved foods. Keep it as natural as possible. Avoid all food preservatives, artificial colourants and all other chemical additives to food or foods that have been sprayed with pesticides.

2. Take a good multivitamin/mineral to make sure you avoid nutritional defficiencies.

3. Don't eat junk foods or smoked foods.

4. Avoid breathing in or taking in foreign chemicals that will cause free radicals in your body.

5. Eat your fresh vegetables and fruits! Really, eat them. Don't just say yes.