Free Radicals

Your body has a love-hate relationship with oxygen. We all know that when we breathe, we are taking in oxygen, and if we stop breathing, we stop living.

Biochemically, oxygen is the final acceptor of carbon from the breakdown of carbohydrates for energy, just like fire uses oxygen to break down wood to carbon dioxide and water. Having oxygen in this reaction makes our energy metabolism much more efficient, and the waste products are much less toxic to our systems. We are all familiar with the effects of the more toxic byproducts of generating energy without oxygen in the form of stiff and sore muscles after overdoing a physical activity.

What makes oxygen the ideal end to our energy-producing biochemical reactions also makes it dangerous. Oxygen in its O2 form is quite unstable and easily forms free radicals. These free radicals are useful in our carefully-controlled, energy-producing reactions, but they also easily get out of hand. Other chemicals most notably pollution and cigarette or wood smoke form free radicals too. However, both in and out of controlled reactions, oxygen creates the most free radicals by far, which is why all free radical reactions are called oxidation.

Hey, Can You Spare an Electron?

A free radical is formed when an atom loses one of its electrons. Normally, electrons are in pairs on the perimeter of an atom, but when one electron is lost the atom desperately seeks another. It takes an electron from whatever it happens to be next to, which turns that molecule into a free radical. This continues in a chain reaction until a molecule donates a spare electron. Molecules that are able to donate spare electrons are generally referred to as antioxidants since they stop oxidation reactions.

The chain reaction of free radicals can do major damage. Inside a cell, free radicals can damage the DNA, possibly causing cancer. Outside, they can disrupt the cell membrane; connect collagen fibers in odd ways causing wrinkles; and contribute to atherosclerosis, a major factor is heart disease. There is evidence that free radical damage is the underlying factor in all disease, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer, the three biggest killers in North America.

Your body does have its own antioxidants. These are natural electron donors in your cells which specifically prevent free radical damage to your DNA and other cell components. The problem is that the concentrations of these home-grown antioxidants are low outside of your cells, like in your bloodstream. With increased causes of free radicals in our environment, like pollution, pesticide residue and certain drugs, our natural defenses just can’t keep up.

One of the possible ways of preventing some of the damage done by free radicals is chelation therapy. Chelation therapy is done intravenously in a clinic and administered by a technician. Do not ever be taken in by anyone selling oral chelation therapy the ethylene diamine tetra-acetic acid (EDTA) used in the true therapy cannot be absorbed through your intestines, so using it orally is just a waste of money. There are some antioxidant formulas being sold under the name of oral chelation, but be very careful of these. Formulas with quality ingredients will do you some good, but it is not the same thing as chelation therapy.

No one really knows exactly how chelation therapy works, we just know that it does work. One theory is that the EDTA cleans your system of the heavy metals which can build up to toxic levels. The presence of heavy metals including iron and copper greatly increases the incidences of free radicals without being effected themselves; when these metals are cleared out of your system, there is less free radical generation, and your body is more able to heal itself.

Naturally Generous Nutrients

A common way of helping your body deal with free radicals is by taking an antioxidant formula. The main nutritional antioxidants are vitamin A, beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and coenzyme Ql0. These are all present in fruits and vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, strawberries, green tea, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli as well as in oils like flax and hemp seed oil. Supplementation is generally required to get the amounts of these antioxidants needed because processing and conventional farming practices lower the amount of antioxidants otherwise present in these foods.

Vitamin A is an effective antioxidant, but it is toxic over about 25,000 international units (IU) per day. Beta-carotene is a close relative of vitamin A and rarely shows toxicity. Vitamin E is also a well-known antioxidant. Two hundred to 800 IU of vitamin E is recommended per day by leading nutritionists this level is very difficult to get in your diet. Many medical authorities say that taking more than 800 IU of vitamin E per day can be toxic, but studies have shown 3,200 IU per day for six months has negligible toxic effects.

All of these antioxidants, along with coenzyme Q10, are fat soluble, which means they can enter the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in your blood and prevent free radical damage. When the LDL in your blood is oxidized, your body mobilizes your immune system to remove it. If there is too much oxidized material, it is deposited on your artery walls, causing atherosclerosis.

Vitamin C is a very good antioxidant, but only at the multi-gram range. Vitamin C also has the benefit of being able to reactivate fat-soluble antioxidants like vitamin E and the antioxidant glutathione, which is produced by the body.

Selenium has been shown to protect against lung and skin cancer. The thinning of the ozone layer has been increasing the amount of ultra-violet radiation the earth receives, and has also been increasing the incidences of skin cancer. Selenium protects your skin from the effects of the ultra-violet light. Many soils are deficient in selenium, so most of our food sources are likewise deficient and supplementation is necessary. Only 50 to 200 micro-grams is enough, but watch that your supplement has little or no sodium selenite because this inorganic form is easily toxic.

Whey protein is also effective as an antioxidant because it contains high levels of the amino acid cysteine, a precursor of glutathione. Glutathione is sold as a supplement and is effective, though expensive.

Plant extracts are also sold as antioxidants. The most common are pine bark extract and grape seed extract.Pine bark extract is sold under the trade name of pycnogenol. Grape seed extract does not have a trade name, so it is usually less expensive.

If you decide to supplement with antioxidants, remember that antioxidants usually work in synergy, so a blend is generally more effective than a single antioxidant.

The dying words of Louis Pasteur, the father of modern medicine were “The key to medicine is host resistance.” Modern pharmaceutical medicine seems to have forgotten this principle, but you must protect yourself, starting at a cellular level. From there, good health will flow.

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