Definition of Free Radicals
By Adrian Lopresti
Most molecules are electrically neutral, meaning that the number of negative electrons in the molecule equals the number of positively charged protons.
However, a free radical is a molecule that has a 'free', unpaired electron and therefore is negatively charged. This free electron makes a free radical very active, leading it to try and take an electron from other nearby molecules.
By taking an electron from another molecule, it can lead to a chain reaction of free radical production. However, it may also share the electron with the nearby molecule, which means the free radical has oxidised the other molecule.
The purpose of free radicalsFree radicals are normally present in the body in small numbers. Biochemical processes naturally lead to the formation of free radicals, and under normal circumstances the body can keep them in check. A definition of free radicals may indicate that they are bad to have in the body. However, free radicals are not all bad.
For example, free radicals produced by the immune system destroy viruses and bacteria. Other free radicals are involved in producing vital hormones and activating enzymes that are needed for life. Free radicals are also necessary to produce energy and various substances that the body requires. Problems occur when there is excessive free radical formation which can cause damage to cells and tissues.
This definition of free radicals explains that not all free radicals are bad but rather excessive production of free radicals is.
Excess free radicals are bad...Despite free radicals being only short lived molecular intermediates, through their reaction with other molecules, they can give rise to many undesirable biological functions and products. Excess free radicals spin about in an endless ricochet producing a dangerous number of free radicals which can alter the way in which the cells code genetic material.
As a result of errors in protein synthesis, changes can occur in protein structure. The body's immune system may then see this altered protein as a foreign substance and try to destroy it. Free radicals can also destroy the protective cell membranes. Calcium levels in the body can also become disrupted. Unless excess free radicals are neutralised, distress, disease and accelerated ageing will occur.
Nutritional sources of free radicalsA definition of free radicals shows that they form from metabolic processes in the body and from environmental exposures. Nutritionally, free radicals can be obtained from the following foods and fats that are exposed to excessive heat, oxygen, and light:
Free radicals are not a new creation, however, modern dietary and lifestyle practices has seen an increase in free radical exposure and a reduction in defence mechanisms, namely antioxidant protection. This importance of knowing how do antioxidants work in our body to protect it from the ravages of free radicals is essential.
The impact high levels of
The levels of free radical damage in our society today has led to escalating degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease,
depression and the like. Some modern lifestyle practices that lead to increasing free radical exposure include:
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