Free Radicals

Free Radicals: Destroyers of Optimum Health

Within the human body, millions of processes are occurring at all times. These processes require oxygen and can create harmful side effects, or oxidant substances, which cause cell damage and lead to chronic disease.
In much the same way as oxidation creates rust, causing a breakdown on the surface of inanimate objects; oxidation inside the body causes a breakdown of cells.

Free radicals produced by this breakdown attack healthy cells, including DNA, proteins and fats. This chain of events weakens immunological functions as well as speeding up the aging process, and is also linked to several diseases such as cataracts, various forms of cancer, and heart disease. Most importantly, this free radical damage accumulates with age.

Free radicals can also be formed:

  1. As part of the body’s immune system to help neutralize viruses and bacteria, and
  2. In reaction to environmental factors such as pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke and herbicides.

Once formed these highly reactive radicals can start a chain reaction. Imagine this analogy – you are working in an open office with 80 other people. Each time someone passes your desk, they bind one of their arms to one of your arms. It wouldn’t take long until, not only could you not function to do your own work, but moving freely would be impossible. This is the end-like effect of free radicals.

The cells can no longer function properly and all processes fall into dysfunction, totally destroying the cell.

An even greater danger of free radicals is from the damage they can do when they react with cellular DNA. This mutation can have serious consequences, such as cancer.

The body has several antioxidant enzyme systems within the body that scavenge free radicals. The most common are:

  • Superoxide Dismutase changes the structure of oxidants and breaks them down into hydrogen peroxide
  • Catalase in turn, breaks down hydrogen peroxide into water and tiny oxygen particles or gasses
  • Glutathione is a detoxifying agent, which binds with different toxins to change their form so that they are able to leave the body as waste

The body is designed to handle ‘normal’ loads of free radicals. But if the free radical production becomes excessive, or if there is insufficient antioxidant available, damage can occur.


Fighting Free Radicals with Antioxidants

Antioxidants, or anti-oxidation agents, reduce the effect of dangerous oxidants by binding together with these harmful molecules, decreasing their destructive power. Antioxidants can also help repair damage already sustained by cells.

Unfortunately, these are not sufficient to deal with the high levels of toxins we are exposed to today. This is where antioxidants are invaluable. Antioxidants safely interact with free radicals and terminate the chain reaction before vital molecules are damaged.


Impact of Exercise on Free Radical Production

Exercise increases the oxygen utilization rate and in turn, the rate of generation of free radicals. This raises the need for additional levels of antioxidants for sports persons. The body responds to this demand; with regular physical exercise the antioxidant defence system is boosted over time to provider greater protection against exercise induced free radical damage.

On the other hand, intense exercise in untrained individuals overwhelms defences resulting in increased free radical damage. Thus, spontaneous ‘get fit quick goals’ may be do more harm than good.

Normal Cellular Operation

Next: How Exercise Impacts Aging

Aging Causes Index | Why Skin Ages | Behaviour | Free Radicals | Exercise | Smoking | Cancer

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