What are free radicals?
Free radicals are everywhere, in the air, our bodies, and the materials around us. They cause the deterioration of plastics, the fading of paint, the degradation of works of art, ageing related illnesses, and can contribute to heart attacks, stroke and cancers.
Free radicals are molecules with unpaired electrons. In their quest to find another electron, they are very reactive and cause damage to surrounding molecules.
The body can cope with some free radicals and needs them to function effectively. However, an overload of free radicals over time can cause damage. Within our bodies we produce more free radicals than needed when we are stressed, eat fatty foods, smoke and drink alcohol. Pollution in our environment exposes us to further free radicals. An imbalance in the levels of free radicals can contribute to certain diseases.
Some medical problems caused by an overload of free radicals include:
- deterioration of the eye lens, which contributes to blindness
- inflammation of the joints (arthritis)
- damage to nerve cells in the brain, which contributes to conditions such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease
- acceleration of the ageing process
- increased risk of coronary heart disease, since free radicals encourage low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol to stick to artery walls
- increased risk of a stoke
- increased risk of diabetes
- certain cancers, triggered by damaged call DNA
Although free radicals can do damage, we can’t live without free radicals as they help important reactions within our body to take place. For example, white blood cells use free radicals to destroy bacteria and virus-infected cells. Radical reactions can also be used to synthesise novel materials and technologies, for example custom designed plastics and pharmaceuticals. Therefore, it is important that we try to attain the appropriate levels of free radicals, and antioxidants can help us to achieve this.
Free radicals are everywhere. The body can cope with some free radicals and needs them to function effectively. However, an overload of free radicals over time can cause damage. Within our bodies we produce more free radicals than needed when we are stressed, eat fatty foods, smoke and drink alcohol. Pollution in our environment exposes us to further free radicals. An imbalance in the levels of free radicals can contribute to certain diseases.
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