How Do Free Radicals Affect Us?6 months, 1 week ago
Posted on Aug 10, 2017, 6 a.m.
Understanding the role of free radicals in human health and possible ways of countering the negative effects.
Free Radicals Damage Our Cells and Lead to Aging and Disease
Relatively little is known about free radicals and how they affect human health but they are linked to age-related diseases, gray hair, and wrinkles. Scientists are trying to understand this phenomenon to help prevent free radicals from making people sick. Free radicals are defined as atoms that are unstable. If the outer shell of an atom is missing an electron it will try to steal one by bonding with another atom. Oxidative stress is a process where oxygen molecules split into atoms with missing electrons that become free radicals. They then try to bond with other molecules or atoms in the body and can damage cells leading to a host of diseases and symptoms of aging.
Theories on How Free Radicals Damage our Bodies
The theory of free radicals is that they accumulate damage on cells over time. As we grow older our body's lose the ability to remedy these effects thus generating more free radicals causing oxidative stress. This leads to aging and age related diseases. Many studies have linked free radicals to oxidative stress that causes dementia, Alzheimer's, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, cataracts, diabetes, Huntington's disease, Parkinson's, hair loss, gray hair, and wrinkles.
A new theory of free radicals has been focused on the heart of cells called the mitochondria. Experiments on rats seem to confirm that the mitochondria are vulnerable to free radicals. The damage produced only adds more free radicals which accelerate the aging of cells. The buildup of free radicals helps explain why our bodies deteriorate over time, but it is only one of many reasons why we age.
Some people age slower than others and free radical theories help explain this. Some free radicals are produced by our body naturally. However, our lifestyle can add more free radicals into our bodies from these sources:
* alcohol consumption
* air pollution
* fried foods
Antioxidants Counter the Effects of Free Radicals
Antioxidants can counter the negative effects of free radicals. They are found in food sources like fruits, berries, soy, and carrots to mention a few. Antioxidants prevent oxidative stress on cells by being able to donate an electron to a free radical atom within our bodies.
Antioxidants can prevent some but not all damage caused by free radicals. At the same time, some antioxidants can become free radicals by turning into pro-oxidants stealing electrons instead of donating.
Antioxidant Foods Versus Supplements
Antioxidant rich diets are recommended by health experts including foods rich in plants that contain glutathione, phytoestrogens, vitamin C, E, and beta carotene. Experts generally caution against antioxidant supplements as many studies have shown few if any health benefits.
Some studies have shown that people who use supplementation with antioxidants in especially high doses of vitamin E or beta-carotene actually increase their mortality risks. However, there are a few studies of long term beta-carotene supplementation improving (though only modestly) cognitive thinking in older people.
Antioxidants are not a cure for the damage free radicals wreak on our bodies. Scientists struggle to understand free radicals and why they form in the first place. They suggest that the presence of free radicals is an early sign of disease or that aging causes the formation of free radicals. Only more studies can reveal the mysteries of free radicals and how to counter them. For those wanting to fight the aging effects of these unstable atoms, avoiding sources of free radicals and eating a healthy balanced diet rich in plant foods is recommended over the use of supplements.