What are free radicals? Technically, free radicals are atoms with one electron as opposed to the normal two electrons in their outer shell. Being reactive and unstable they seek another electron to become stable. A free radical grabs an electron from an adjacent atom, therby meeting its own electron need but damaging the neighboring atom and in turn creating a new free radical. When enough atoms become damaged from this chain reaction, the molecule that contains them becomes damaged. These free radicals attack DNA which in turn can lead to cellular dysfunction, mutation and cancer. When they attack enzymes and proteins it causes malfunction of normal cellular activity. When enough molecules are damaged, the cell section becomes damaged. When free radical activity damages cell mitochondria, the structures inside the cells where ATP energy production occurs, cells lose vitality. If they are low density lipoprotein particle, the particle can become oxidized. Although LDL cholesterol has unfairly gotten a bad rap, it is the “oxidized“ LDL that is dangerous. LDL has a number of important functions, one of which is carrying CoQ10 through the blood stream. Ironically, statin drugs as well as beta blockers have been linked to CoQ10 depletion.
These highly reactive compounds known as free radicals are created during normal metabolic functions or they can be introduced from the environment. Of course some people develop habits and participate in activities that add to and accelerate the process. This is why antioxidants are so important. Unchecked, free radical stress accelerates the aging process as well as age related degenerative diseases. “Free radical pathologies“ are now a disease classification. The domino effect of free radicals was first theorized nearly forty years ago by Denham Harman, a researcher at the University of Nebraska and has become the most widely accepted scientific explanations for aging and accompanied by the idea that free radicals are causal factors not only in the aging process, but in nearly every known disease as well. He believes that aging changes induced by free radical reactions are largely initiated by the mitochondria and in turn the rate of damage to the mitochondria determines life span. Remember, the mitochondria is where cellular energy is produced.
By now many people know that you can get antioxidants from food such as fruits and vegetables, as well as supplements. The antioxidant compounds made by your cells also help to eliminate free radicals. The body produces several antioxidant enzymes including superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, and glutathione peroxidase that neutralize many types of free radicals. There are also many minerals and vitamins that act as antioxidants in their function, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, lutein, lycopene, vitamin B2, CoQ10 and cysteine, etc., as well as herbs such as bilberry, tumeric, grape seed, green tea and ginkgo to name but a few. Consuming a variety of antioxidant enzymes, minerals, herbs and vitamins may be a very good way to provide protection against free radical damage.
Another “component“ worth noting is alpha lipoic acid (ALA) a vitamin like antioxidant that is both fat soluble and water soluble. ALA has been called “the universal antioxidant“. ALA is manufactured in the body and found in some foods such as yeast and liver.
Besides its incredible ability when supplemented properly in diabetes, the capability to regenerate several other antioxidants back to their active states is fascinating. These include vitamin C, vitamin E, glutathione and coenzyme Q10 it would seem that when mom and grandma said to eat your fruits and vegetables they were right once again.
Dr. Rich Easterling N.D. Ph. D