Free Radicals and Antioxidants
What are Free Radicals?
We are all made up of atoms. Atoms that have a full outer shell of electrons tend to be stable. Atoms that do not have a full outer shell of electrons want to get another electron very badly so they can be stable and inert. These unstable atoms are called Free Radicals.
Free radicals tend to move quickly to try to steal an electron from whatever molecule happens to be around them. Of course, whoever they steal an electron from becomes a new free radical and the process is like a domino effect. Our body performs many functions and there will always be some free radicals created. However, if the level of free radicals gets too high in the body, you can run into major problems. Numerous diseases and health issues have been linked to high levels of free radicals.
One of the more common types of free radicals are oxygen free radicals. These are oxygen atoms missing an electron. You know that rust you see on the side of your car - well the same thing basically happens inside our body. Oxidative stress is what it’s called when oxygen free radicals start to cause damage in your body.
What causes Free Radicals?
Breathing, eating, moving - basically living! Yes, basically any stress we put on our body can cause free radicals. While obvious things like polluted air, smoking, stressful events and unhealthy foods can cause free radicals - many “healthy” activities can also create free radicals. Almost any type of exercise will put stress on our body, and all this stress on our muscles creates free radicals.
Antioxidants to the rescue
So, how do you turn a free radical into a harmless cell? You give the free radical the extra electron it so desperately wants. What substance can supply this extra electron? You guessed it - antioxidants. Antioxidants are any substances that prevent or slow the oxidation process. Remember, free radicals cause oxidation - and antioxidants prevent oxidation. Antioxidants work by donating an electron to a free radical so it becomes a stable oxygen molecule.