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MAIN Arrow to Health Health Arrow to Free Radicals Free Radicals

illustration showing antioxidants fighting off free radicals
Antioxidants (yellow) help
neutralize free radicals (blue)
from damaging healthy cells.

As the name implies, free radicals are "renegades" that seek to turn over the body's normal processes by running rampant at the cellular level.

No friend to maintaining good health, free radicals are involved in the progression of almost every disease - including heart disease, cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease - as well as common skin wrinkles and the process of aging.

So where do these cells which reek so much havoc actually come from?

Reigning in free radicals

To understand the process, it should first be noted that oxygen molecules have two electrons. When one is missing an electron, it becomes unstable and goes in search of another electron from the next molecule it encounters. As a result, the next molecule becomes a free radical because it is missing an electron. Ultimately, a single free radical may start a chain reaction of new free radicals causing damage to your cells.

Most alarmingly, free radicals can go on to attack DNA, the genetic material of cells and cause them to mutate, the first step on the path to cancer.

Protecting against free radicals gone wild

This process of "oxygen molecules gone wild" is commonly known as oxidation. But there are ways to protect yourself against the worst influences and even repair the damage they may have already caused by supplying your body with plenty of antioxidants found in fresh fruits, legumes, and vegetables and in vitamin supplements such as Vitamin C and Vitamin E.

Top antioxidant foods
Food Serving Total antioxidants Food Serving Total antioxidants
Red Beans (dried) Half cup 13727 Raspberries 1 cup 6058
Wild blueberry 1 cup 13427 Strawberries 1 cup 5938
Red kidney beans (dried) Half cup 13259 Red Delicious apples One 5900
Pinto beans Half cup 11864 Granny Smith apples One 5381
Blueberries 1 cup 9019 Pecans 1 ounce 5095
Cranberries 1 cup (whole) 8983 Cherries 1 cup 4873
Artichokes (cooked) 1 cup (hearts) 7904 Black plum One 4844
Blackberries 1 cup 7701 Russet potato (cooked) One 4649
Prune Half cup 7291 Black beans (dried) Half cup 4181

In addition to proper nutrition, other rules to limit the formation of free radicals include:

Exercise - keeping your body strong and fit through regular exercise usually results in the formation of fewer free radicals.

Eliminate toxins from the environment - cigarette smoke, chlorine in water, pesticides in foods, smog.

Protein - made up of amino acids from which the body makes protective antioxidants.

Get proper sleep - one of the most powerful scavengers of free radicals is melatonin, a hormone released when you sleep.

Stress management is also very important to reducing free radical formation, as persistent emotional stress very often translates into physical ailments and, at worst, serious disease.

More about free radicals around the Web:

Understanding Free Radicals and Antioxidants
- What are free radicals? Along with how they are formed, advice on how to prevent free radical damage and tips on top antioxidant foods.

Antioxidants and Free Radicals - A discussion on what damage free radicals can cause along with tips on high antioxidant foods and diet with suggested reading and related resources.

Free radical theory - Wikipedia - Check out a good overview of free-radical theory of aging (FRTA) along with related scientific evidence and related resources.


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