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What are free radicals?

Free radicals are highly reactive and unstable oxygen species formed naturally in the body through metabolic processes, or as a result of exposure to pollutants in the environment. This includes things like tobacco smoke, pesticides, radiation, and toxins like methane or carbon monoxide.

Free radicals are atoms that contain an unpaired electron. Given the lack of a stable number of outer shell electrons, they are continuously searching for another electron to bind with in order to stabilise themselves—a process that can damage DNA and other parts of human cells.

When free radicals enter the body, they can create a chain reaction by attaching themselves to other molecules. This can result in oxidative stress where there is an imbalance between the antioxidants in the body and free radicals.

What is oxidative stress?

Oxidative stress occurs when there are too many free radicals present in the body and not enough antioxidants to fight them. This can lead to oxidative damage and lead to things like:
– poor immune system
– Damage to DNA
– heart disease
– cancer
– Parkinson’s disease
– high blood pressure
– cell membranes

According to the free radical theory of aging (FRTA), individuals age as a result of free radical damage accumulated over time.

Minimising free radical damage

To minimise free radical damage, it’s important to strengthen your immune system by consuming foods high in antioxidants. Antioxidants nutrients include vitamin A, C, E, copper, zinc, and selenium. These nutrients will scavenge for so-called free radicals and bring balance to the body.

To obtain these nutrients, you can eat berries, broccoli, dark leafy greens, carrots, tomatoes, green tea, oily fish, and nuts.

The food we eat makes a significant difference to our overall health, and especially our immune system. You can also obtain these nutrients through antioxidant supplementation but you should focus on eating more natural food sources than taking supplements. This is because multivitamins or other supplements normally contain vitamins and minerals in large quantities. Consuming antioxidants in excessive amounts can also be toxic.

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