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Free Radicals: What can you do about them?

December 5th, 2009

Free radicals are unstable molecules that have unpaired electrons. In their attempt to stabilize themselves, they steal electrons from our cells, in effect causing cell damage and subsequent self-destruction, a process also known as apoptosis. Free radicals are generated every second in the body. It’s not only caused by dietary and lifestyle indiscretions but also by normal metabolic processes such as breathing and eating. Free radicals are not all bad. It’s one of the ways our body defends itself from pathogens for instance. It’s excessive free radical activity that causes health problems.

What can we do to quench excessive free radical activity? These can be done through substances called antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that donate electrons to free radicals which are then effectively neutralized. Antioxidants can come in different forms such as vitamins (vitamins A and C), minerals (zinc, selenium), amino acids (glutathione), herbs (turmeric, garlic, ginkgo) and superfruits (wolfberry, apricots, pomegranates, blueberries).

Is it necessary for everybody to take antioxidants? In a perfect world, probably not. But with todays imperfect environment, we all need to take antioxidants from food sources as well as supplements. Not all supplements are created equal, however. I generally prefer whole food derived rather than synthetic supplements.