How To Prevent Free Radicals
Well most of us have heard about free radicals, free radical damage and their links to a host of diseases including some of the more frightening ones. Yet, despite the bombardment of information on where we might find these and why we should avoid them, there are very few of us who actually know what a free radical is. Many questions come to mind about these pesky little destroyers, and so below we thought we’d take the opportunity to give you a simple description of the nature of the free radical.
What are they? This is the first question that needs to be addressed when dealing with these damaging pests. A free radical is an atom or group of atoms that contains at least one (sometimes more) impaired electron. The electrons, if you remember from grade ten science class, are the negatively charged particles that frequently occur in pairs and zip around the edges of an atom. Because electrons like to bond, however, a impaired electron might bond with another atom or molecule. When this happens, a chemical reaction occurs.
These impaired electrons therefore join freely with other compounds. These free radicals as they are then known may only exist for a tiny fraction of a second, but in that time they can cause a great deal of danger. This process can result in oxidative damage in the body. After the free radicals have disappeared therefore, the damage most often remains. This free radical damage to the body often includes damage to the heart muscle cells, the nerve cells and/or particular immune system sensor cells.
Although free radicals are often found in the human body in small numbers, usually they are a small enough amount to allow the body to regulate them and keep them in check. The body’s naturally produces free radicals and they aren’t all necessarily bad. Some free radicals are produced in order to kill off bacteria and other viruses by the immune system, while others are produced to activate vital hormones and enzymes that are fundamental for life. At times, therefore, free radicals are there to help us maintain health rather than to hinder it.
The problem of course results when free radicals build to excessive amounts at which time cells and tissue can become damaged. The increase in free radicals in the body is a progressive process and as such, the more free radicals are produced the more free radicals form.
There are many ways in which excessive free radicals can occur in the body including radiation from either frequent exposure to x-rays, the sun, or environmental pollutants such as nicotine smoke or automobile exhaust. Diet is also a contributing factor. Fats tend to create more oxidation and therefore a diet high in fats can lead to more free radical damage than carbohydrate or protein meals will. Also, cooking fats at high temperatures is a particularly bad idea, for this can lead to a number of free radicals.
The solution? Well aside from eating a healthy diet and staying away from pollutants both internal and external, eating antioxidant rich foods will help provide some protection. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals by binding to their free electrons. Eating foods high in Vitamin A, beta carotene, Vitamins C and E and the minerals selenium and zinc will help destroy free radicals in the body and thus help to keep you protected from their longer term damage.
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