Free Radicals

In the normal course of metabolism, your body produces small, high-energy particles that have a single electron in their outer shell (such molecules are unstable because electrons prefer to be paired). These are called free radicals, and they can be very damaging in their search for another electron. Free radicals derived from oxygen are the most abundant and damaging of the species.

These free radicals are normally channeled into energy production. In some cells they may be used as the weapons to kill viruses and bacteria. Unfortunately, if too many of them are produced, their extremely high energy can also be damaging to normal tissues. Free radicals disrupt the normal production of DNA, the genetic material, and alter the lipids (fats) in cell membranes. They also affect the blood vessels and the production of prostaglandins. (Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances that regulate many physiological functions, and their production is very sensitive to many metabolic influences.)

We are also exposed to free radicals that are found in the environment or generated by exposure to environmental chemicals. There are many sources of excess free-radical exposure, including cigarette smoke; air pollution; some highly processed foods and food additives; ultraviolet sunlight and radiation; processed oils such as commercial vegetable oils, margarines and shortenings; charcoal-broiled foods and any charred or burned foods; heavy metals (lead, cadmium, aluminum, and mercury) found in processed foods; excessive iron; pesticides; and some prescription medications. Many of the chemicals found in municipal water supplies are toxic because they generate free radicals. It is good to drink a lot of water but to avoid treated tap water as much as possible.

Recently, it has been confirmed that excessive accumulation of iron, common in meat-eating populations, may be a highly significant risk factor in the development of heart disease, although not as important as smoking. This is probably due to this transition metal being a generator of free radicals. Therefore, it is also a probable risk factor for cancer. Unless you have a demonstrated need for iron, it is a good idea to avoid supplements that contain it, although these studies were not done with iron supplements.

By careful lifestyle choices some of these free-radical sources can be avoided and others can be counteracted. By making these choices for yourself you can slow down the aging process, decrease the risk of cancer and heart disease and promote high energy and a vital, healthy feeling of well-being. One way to protect yourself from free-radical damage is to take dietary supplements. We need extra supplies of those nutrients destroyed by toxins and those that help to prevent the harmful effects of these foreign chemicals. Specifically, vitamins A, C, E and beta-carotene; the trace minerals selenium and zinc; and accessory food factors, such as bioflavonoids and coenzyme Q10, all help to scavenge free radicals through antioxidant activity. They help prevent cancer, heart disease, premature aging and tissue degeneration. Many herbs also help in the fight against excess free radicals

as well as ionized water.