is a free radical?
is not a punk group or crazed politician, but a danger to every
living human being. Free radicals have been implicated in several
chronic diseases including heart disease, rheumatic disease, some
cancers, alzheimer's disease, various liver disorders and many other
aging related illnesses.
Atoms are the
basic building blocks of more complicated structures called molecules.
The simplest molecules consist of just a few atoms held together
such as hydrogen (H2), oxygen (O2) and water (H20).
of molecule of water.
contain an even number of electrons. For example, hydrogen, the
smallest and lightest atom, has only one electron but when combined
with another hydrogen atom this pair of atoms, a molecule, now has
an even number of 2 electrons. The hydrogen atoms share their electrons.
this sharing of electrons, a bond, is broken then the atom will
have an unpaired electron and becomes a free radical. Typically,
this process involves oxygen and is called oxidation. The state
of an unpaired electron is highly volatile and short lived. These
radicals attempt to combine with one another or steal electrons
from other types of atoms in order to have a stable even number
If this radical
reacts with a stable molecule, such as a fatty acid in your cells
membrane or a piece of your DNA, they can abstract a part of that
molecules electrons. This generates new radicals which in turn go
on to react with other molecules creating a chain reaction. At high
temperatures this process is particularly rapid and prominent which
is why high temperature processing of oil leads to rancidity.
that are damaged by free radicals, lipid peroxides, are deposited
into the blood vessels resulting in the development of atherosclerosis.
radiation, and chemicals in cigarette smoke all promote free radicals.
This is why people who worship the sun are prone to skin cancer
and one mechanism of how cigarettes promote lung cancer.
The body has
certain built in protections from free radicals. Antioxidant nutrients
include vitamin A, alpha carotene, beta carotene, lycopene, lutein(s),
vitamin C, vitamin E, and coenzyme Q10. The body also has enzymes
such as superoxide dismutase and ecatalase which help destroy free
Of the nutrients,
vitamin E is the most important antioxidant in the protection of
lipids against free radical damage. the incidence and progression
of coronary artery damage is related to the dose of vitamin E and
its protection against free radical damage to lipids.