What are free radicals and how can we protect ourselves?

Have you ever cut an apple and let it sit out for a bit? If you have, you would have noticed how quickly it starts to brown and decompose. Free radicals in our bodies have the same effect but it’s not as instant or as obvious as the apple, it’s something that occurs over a lifetime. Many of you would have noticed the effect oxidisation has on a diced apple but have you seen what happens if you dip the apple in some lemon juice? The browning/rotting will either slow down significantly or stop altogether. The reason is because lemon juice has an important antioxidant, Vitamin C.

What Are Free Radicals?

Chemically speaking, free radicals are molecules or molecular fragments that have an unimpaired electron. Highly unstable and extremely short lived, makes free radicals extremely volatile, reacting aggressively with other molecules at the instant of their creation. Oxidisation reduction, free radicals, unimpaired electrons – this might sound like pretty complex stuff, but just a simple understanding is all that we require to make effective changes in our lives. In fact, life’s quintessential paradox is that oxygen, the giver of life, is also our mortal enemy.

While absolutely essential to cellular respiration, oxygen’s involvement in the life process lies at the very heart of growing old. Oxygen is not the only molecule to form free radicals. We now know that excessive free radical formation can be induced through exposure to such things as environmental pollutants, industrial chemicals, agricultural pesticides, cigarette smoke and radiation. Free radicals leave a virtual killing field of destruction in their wake, punching tiny holes in cell membranes, altering the cells molecular blueprint, with nasty consequences for the cells and ultimately our health and our quality of life.

If you are only new to understanding the processes of free radicals and antioxidants, don’t let the scientific analysis overwhelm you. Just remember, a simple understanding is all that is required to make effective changes in our lives. Understand that free radicals are excessive oxygen trapped in our bodies and that antioxidants help remove this oxygen. All that is required then, is for us to become aware of which foods are rich in antioxidants and to include those foods in our diets on a daily basis.