Free radicals are unstable, extra electrons attached to a chemical compound. These extra electrons seek to combine with another electron and may damage your cell membranes, DNA, mitochondrial membranes and LDL cholesterol.
In developed societies each person is exposed to a high level of free radicals every day. They come from pollution and can be triggered by chemicals and from inflammation. They can come from your body’s own biochemical processes as well.
Free Radicals and Aging
There is a theory that a person will age faster if they’re exposed to higher amounts of free radicals, especially if they’re not able to contain and quench them with antioxidants. The free radical theory of aging indicates that your skin and inner organs age from free radical damage. To manage and slow down your aging process decrease your exposure to things that will increase free radicals, such as pollution, non-organic foods, heavy metals such as mercury, household toxins etc.
Free Radicals and Cancer
Free radicals can initiate cancer by damaging DNA in your cells. Therefore part of cancer prevention is to limit free radicals and to quench them with antioxidants.
What about the Heart and Brain Arteries?
LDL cholesterol, when attacked by free radicals, can lodge itself in the arteries and contribute to gradual narrowing or to plaque that is susceptible to rupture. Decreasing free radical damage is crucial for keeping your heart and brain healthy.
Can Free Radicals be prevented?
You can prevent some free radicals but you cannot prevent all of your exposures because your body produces free radicals from its own chemical reactions. The best way to lower your exposure is the following:
• Try to eat as much organic food as possible, as non-organic food can contain pesticides and heavy metals, which increase free radicals as well as are toxic themselves and difficult for your body to eliminate.
• Decrease your exposure to chemicals and VOCs (volatile organic chemicals) by using low VOC and “green” household products.
• Decrease your exposure to radiation as well as to flying. Flying exposes you to the amount of radiation similar to a chest x ray. Radiation can contribute to free radicals.
• Decrease your exposure to polluted air and water and do what you can to contribute to improve and maintain water and air quality standards.
Quenching the Radicals: Antioxidants
An antioxidant can combine with a free radical electron and prevent damage from them. Antioxidants can be found in fruits, vegetables and in supplements. Because your body is exposed to literally thousands of free radicals you need a daily supply of antioxidants.
Supplements to Quench Radicals
You need antioxidants that are water soluble as well as those that are fat soluble. You also need some antioxidants that help recycle other important ones. Vitamin C is the most important water soluble antioxidant. Fat soluble antioxidants are beta and other carotenes, vitamin E and tocotrienols.
Alpha lipoic acid works in the water soluble and fat soluble areas and also helps to recycle antioxidants once they have done their radical quenching job. It’s a very powerful and important free radical quencher that you can take as a supplement. A reasonable dose is 100-200 mg per day but a daily value for general health has not been established.
You can get your basic antioxidants in a good multivitamin that contains vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, beta carotenes and selenium. In addition to this you might want to take a more powerful antioxidant quencher that combines alpha lipoic acid (ALA) with other strong antioxidants such as grape seed extract, tocotrienols and resveratrol.
What about Fruits and Vegetables?
It’s a good idea to eat fruits and vegetables that have phytochemicals that are antioxidants. The antioxidant ability of a fruit or vegetable can be rated. The ORAC (Oxygen radical absorbance capacity) value indicates how strong their antioxidant quenching abilities are.
Here are some examples:
The higher the number the stronger the antioxidant ability. This ORAC value lowers as the age of the product increases.
Fruits and vegetables can be classified according to color. Of course, you should choose organic when possible and choose for the most vibrant natural colors.
• Red (Tomatoes, Apples, Red peppers, Strawberries, Raspberries, Pomegranates)
• Blue and Purple (Blueberries, Prunes and Blackberries)
• Green (Broccoli, Kale, Chard, Spinach, etc)
• Yellow, Orange (Carrots, Squash, Sweat Potatoes, Oranges, etc)
Try and eat from each one of the above four color groups every day.
What about My Brain?
Blueberries have been extensively studied and seem to provide antioxidant abilities to protect your brain from free radicals. Eat them fresh in the summer and use frozen ones in smoothies the rest of the year.
Use the three-fold strategy to deal with free radicals outlined in this article to decrease your risk of heart disease, strokes and cancer. It can also slow your aging process. Eat from the color groups listed above and take a good multivitamin and an antioxidant supplement daily.