By now everyone has at least seen the term “free radical” mentioned in an article or overheard some advertiser trying to sell you a supplement that neutralizes these free radicals responsible for the chronic inflammatory pain and destruction that ages you much faster! By definition free radicals are atoms or molecules that have unpaired electrons, which destabilizes them, making them highly reactive. Basically, when these free radicals accumulate in excess, they steal electrons from healthy cells turning them into free radicals, initiating a chain reaction of free radical production.
So, where do free radicals come from? They come from acid forming damaged proteins in commercial meat, dairy, and packaged and refined goods, oxidized vegetable oils, toxic bi-products from excessive pathogenic bacteria in the gut, virus’s, and infections(candida), EMF radiation, injured areas in body, excessive fat storage, high blood sugar, environmental toxins and heavy metals, AGE’s (Advanced Glycation End Products) beauty care products, drugs, smoking, emotional and physical multi-tasking stress, intense exercise, sunburns, chronic inflammation-acidity from an over reactive immune system, and autoimmunity. Oxygen free radicals (ROS) from normal cellular respiration add to the oxidative stress. These are some of the ways free radicals in our bodies are produced, leading to a vicious cycle of increased acidity and chronic inflammation as free radicals spiral out of control causing oxidative stress, reducing cellular antioxidant capacity and damaging detoxifying enzyme systems that protect the interior of the cells.
This simply means that the body is too stressed and has insufficient antioxidant resources to combat the onslaught of excess free radicals. This leads to oxidative damage, more free radicals, systemic inflammation, and if left unchecked the cycle repeats itself creating the perfect environment for AGING and DISEASE.
A great example of oxidation is a rusty nail. Iron rust is a compound of the metal iron. Rust is formed when iron reacts with the oxygen in the air while in the presence of water (moisture). This massive free radical formation deteriorates or oxidizes the metal. The same thing happens to the body when free radicals continue to be manufactured out of control, rusting the body from the inside out! Even though oxygen is vital for life, it is highly reactive as you see with the rusty metal.
Oxygen causes a great deal of free radicals in the body as part of the metabolic process as cells burn oxygen for energy. These chemically reactive molecules that contain oxygen are referred to as Reactive oxygen species (ROS), including free radicals like hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), hypochlorous acid (HClO), and free radicals such as the hydroxyl radical (·OH) and the superoxide anion (O2−). When these free radicals are allowed to form excessively they can set off a chain reaction that quickly damages fatty cell membranes, proteins, DNA and leads to mutations, resulting in either the severely maiming or killing of cells.
For example- “the superoxide anion is produced as a by-product of several steps in the electron transport chain that works with the Krebs cycle to produce energy using oxygen. Particularly important is the reduction of co-enzyme Q in complex III, since a highly reactive free radical is formed as an intermediate (Q·−). This unstable intermediate can lead to electron “leakage,” when electrons jump directly to oxygen and form the superoxide anion, instead of moving through the normal series of well-controlled reactions of the electron transport chain. Lenaz G (2001). “The mitochondrial production of reactive oxygen species: mechanisms and implications in human pathology”.” IUBMB Life 52 (3-5): 159–64. Finkel T, Holbrook NJ (Nov 2000). “Oxidants, oxidative stress and the biology of ageing.” Nature 408 (6809): 239–47.
In order to prevent free radical damage, the cells of advanced life must possess a system of antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that safely interact with free radicals inside the cell to stop the chain reactions before any significant damage can occur. On the contrary, some of these radicals assist in immunity and signaling so they are not all bad. The idea is for the body to keep these radicals at optimal balanced levels so they can work to protect the body instead of destroying it. However, with daily stressors and environmental toxic exposure at high levels, in conjunction with poor diet and lifestyle choices, ROS levels increase and anti-oxidant systems can’t keep up. The end result is increased cell damage and premature aging of the body. This sets the stage for muscle and joint pain, cancer and other degenerative conditions.
So while oxygen is primordial for human life, as it is highly reactive, it must be in balance with anti-oxidants which is often referred to as the oxygen-antioxidant paradox.
Authors of a 2009 PubMed article Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress as a major cause of age-related diseases and cancer stated “From literatures, it appears that there is a general concept that chronic inflammation can be a major cause of cancers and express aging processes. Moreover, many studies suggest that chronic inflammation could have serious role in wide variety of age-related diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases. Inflammatory process induces oxidative stress and reduces cellular antioxidant capacity.”
This is why anti-oxidants are so very important. Bruce Ames, a well-known scientist in the field of antioxidants, estimates that just one cell in the human body is hit about 10,000 times a day by a free radical, which even seems a bit low considering you may take in up to a million toxins a day! Antioxidants help to counteract or neutralize the free radicals, before they can damage our healthy cells by lending a hand (an electron) when stabilization is needed. A wide spectrum of antioxidant and antioxidant acting compounds from fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, algae, herbs, oils and other food sources supply vitamins A, C, E, coenzyme Q-10, selenium, zinc, carotenoids, polyphenols, polysaccharides, and many more.
Other anti-oxidants are produced in the body. Glutathione, known as the body’s “master anti-oxidant,” is the most powerful naturally produced antioxidant in the body. Along with other nutritional support glutathione produced by the amino acids cysteine, glutamine and glycine. The more glutathione produced, the greater the livers capacity to detoxify damaging toxins and acidic waste. Conversely, when master antioxidant levels are low from acid forming diets and accumulating toxic debris, oxidative stress increases dramatically, leading to the degeneration of the skin, joints, and tissues, and the initiation and progression of a crap shoot of all too common diseases from diabetes, to Alzheimer’s, to cancer.
In addition to limiting or avoiding certain sources of free radicals, like the ones mentioned earlier, antioxidant protective systems need to be at peak levels. Maintaining an anti-inflammatory acid/alkaline balanced diet and lifestyle allows your body to stock up on antioxidants and withstand the incredible amount of stressors and modern day challenges people are faced with today.
Arthur Guyton, MD, author of Textbook of Medical Physiology stated that “when the body is alkaline, it converts free radicals to harmless water and oxygen, which helps to maintain energy and vitality.” Textbook of Medical Physiology is the world’s best-selling physiology text and has been translated into at least 13 languages.
The more excess free radicals there are in the body in proportion to antioxidants, the more H+ (acidity), and the slower and less efficient the cell’s metabolism. The more free radicals, the more inflammation, more acid, more oxidation, less oxygen available, and less oxygen-carrying capacity in the blood and tissues! This causes the body’s cells to weaken, fatigue, become sick, and succumb to disease, basically aging you MUCH faster inside and out. A healthy pH balanced, inflammation controlled body with full antioxidant capacity can handle powerful metabolic free radicals like those oxygen produces, as well as all the many other sources of free radical production mentioned earlier, many of which can be reduced or avoided through knowledge and CONSCIOUS application!