Blog , Health and Wellness

Free Radicals and the Importance of Antioxidants

Posted on Wednesday, March 13, 2019
by J Keiffert
free radicals

There are many physiological and pathological processes that can disrupt cellular function. Such processes include smoke entering the body, radiation, and interestingly, cell metabolism. Although these occurrences are very different from each other, they all share a common byproduct known as free radicals.

Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that damage healthy cells in the body. As a result of their unstable number of outer shell electrons, free radicals seek attachment to other electrons in order to become stabilized.  During this process, healthy cells are robbed of their electron balance by the free radicals, which damages their cell membranes. When any physiological process occurs within the body, it is common for free radicals to develop. This is because the processes affect atoms in a way that result in their electrons becoming loosely bound to them, thus making it easy for the electrons to be “stolen”. This electron imbalance puts the body under what is called oxidative stress.

As electron “stealing” amongst cells propagates, the body can suffer to an extent of actual gene damage. When mutations occur in DNA, dangerous byproducts, such as cancer, may result. Thus, it is extremely important to maintain a stable electron balance amongst cells, which can be achieved through the intake of antioxidants.

Oftentimes, people hear about the importance of antioxidants, and how they help to fight off disease. This is completely true as antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, and E, donate electrons to the body. With a surplus of electrons floating about, free radicals no longer need to steal electrons from healthy cells. Instead, they take from antioxidants. This prevents healthy cell damage and gene mutation.

Antioxidant sources:

Source: United States Department of Agriculture

Avoiding Free Radicals:

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5 years ago

Okay….and…?? Now that you have our attention, can you go a little further?
Yes, we can put 2 and 2 together and come up with “EAT MORE GREENS, VEGETABLES, AND FRUITS!” and “EAT FEWER ANIMAL PRODUCTS!”.
As I research information from credible studies to add to the blog I started last year, the consensus emerges that the 2 statements, in CAPS, above are true. (Of course, in America each of us is free to choose our own future, so you decide for yourself. But when we take better care of ourselves, we help our fellow Americans by keeping health care costs lower.)

May I add…
Interesting tidbit #1: Eat your colors. Blue, red, and purple pigments (the anthocyanins) from plant sources contain the highest levels of antioxidants, as indicated in chart #1. Eat the skins; don’t peel anything if you can avoid it. The skins often have higher concentrations of antioxidants.

#2: Many antioxidants cannot be absorbed in the absence of fat. Example: A big salad for dinner, with lots of veggies, and fat-free dressing? Sounds good, but you can kiss all the fat-soluble nutrients goodbye (A,D,E,K, lycopene, beta-carotene, and others). Do yourself a favor, if you like your fat-free dressing, and add avocado, nuts, a hard-boiled egg, and/or cheese to provide the little bit of fat needed for absorption.

#3: Antioxidants from the berries, and maybe from other sources, are “neutralized” in the presence of dairy products, especially those that are higher in fat. Their benefits are cancelled out, for example, when blueberries are added to breakfast cereal and milk. The higher the fat content of the milk, or the fewer berries consumed, the lower the antioxidant level in your system. Strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries are expensive, especially out of season, so I have opted instead to eat a small bowlful of plain blueberries a few hours after breakfast and before lunch.
This antioxidant benefit lasts for hours after consuming them. The same principle applies to smoothies made with milk or yogurt–you’d think that adding all those wonderful berries ups the nutrient content, but instead they’re wasted. Of course, there are plenty of other good things in berries, but I eat them mainly for their antioxidant capability.

#4: My entire working life has been spent outside in the sun, so my risk of getting skin cancer is higher than for those working indoors. When I changed my diet and started consuming more greens and vegetables, I didn’t realize until a few years ago that I had been doing myself a favor in more ways than one. Here’s why: Normally, one molecule of an antioxidant neutralizes one molecule of a free radical, and then they’re both done. When eating greens (dark green and red lettuces, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, broccoli, parsley…) a few times a day, chlorophyll molecules (and their associated antioxidants) circulate through the blood stream essentially all day long. Sunlight on exposed skin “re-energizes” those used antioxidants, that have already killed free radicals, to go out and neutralize more free radicals. So there are more tiny warriors in my blood stream helping to protect me from the many sources of free radicals listed in chart #2. And, no, I’ve never had skin cancer. Not yet.

I’m bringing this up because, as many questions as I ask the doctors, I never get this kind of information. Kudos to you docs out there who do have these discussions with your patients, but you are preciously rare! And based on the extent of inattention paid to my elderly mother and now to me, both on Medicare, we need to learn how to protect ourselves, because, frankly, the medical industry prefers patients who pay full-fare. I can’t blame them for that, but, oh, the stories I could tell…!

Take care of yourselves, and thank you!

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