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Free Radicals and Anti-Oxidants

Free radicals are the highly unstable chemicals that attack, infiltrate, and injure vital cell structures. Most stable chemical compounds in the body possess a pair of electrons. Sometimes, one member of the electron pair gets stripped away. The resulting compound (less one electron) is called a free radical.

In chemistry, the term free radical means that it is now free to combine with another element to form a new stable compound. One way to think of free radical is the way our social system work. In a family there is husband and wife. They are joined together. Both are "tied up" or not available for other partners. Now, for some reason they get separated. Now both mates can look for another person to join together. The way free radicals work, one of these free spouse go and break up a stable marriage of another couple, by joining with one of the spouses. This results in the ouster of a person from that family creating a brand new "free radical" who goes around prowling to find another "compound" to attack. You can see that free radicals can do lot of harm by forming a chain reaction.

A similar thing happens with free radicals in the body. When a free radical is born, it goes around the body looking for another compound to steal an electron from. This breaks up this"contented" couple, that results in releasing another free radical, and so on. While on the prowl, these free radicals (which are really the oxidation products from the body) can do tremendous damage to the delicate machinery of your cells. The most studied free radical chain reaction in living things is lipid peroxidation. (The term lipid refers to any fat-soluble substance, animal or vegetable. Peroxidation means the formation of a peroxide molecule. These are the molecules with the greatest proportion of oxygen molecules. For example, water molecule has tow hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Hydrogen peroxide has two Hydrogen atoms and two oxygen atoms. In other words, there is an excess oxygen atom in hydrogen peroxide.)

Ninety eight percent of the oxygen we breathe is used by tiny powerhouses within our cells called mitochondria, that convert sugar, fats and inorganic phosphate (ADP), oxygen into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the universal form of energy we need to live. This energy producing activity of the mitochondria involves a series of intricate, complex and vital biochemical processes dependent on vast numbers of enzymes (estimates vary from 500 to 10,000 sets of oxidative enzymes). These, in turn, are dependent upon dozens of nutrient factors and co-factors. In this metabolism process a very small amount of left over oxygen loses electrons, creating free radicals. These free radicals burn holes in our cellular membranes. Calcium penetrate our cells through these holes. This excess calcium results in cell death. This, in turn, weakens tissues and organs. As this damage continues, our body become "rusty", less able to fight other invaders such as cancer, hardening of the arteries, premature aging, and other bodily disorders.

Because of the amount of oxygen we breathe every day (our bodies take 630 quadrillion damaging oxygen hits per day. This means each of our cells takes about 10,000 hits per day and each DNA strand in the cell gets hit 5,000 times per day. This free radical bombardment causes a typical human cell to undergo thousands of changes or mutations daily.If a DNA strand gets hit and it is not repaired before its twin gets hit, we will have the onset to a potentially lethal cancer.

In addition to the oxygen we breathe, the free radicals can also come from such things as environmental pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke, chemicals, and herbicides.

The key to having a healthy body is to repair the damages caused by the free radicals before it is too late, and to protect the body's tissue cells from the free radicals before they cause mutations. Antioxidants are substances that have free-radical chain-reaction-breaking properties. Like a bouncer, the antioxidants deactivate potentially dangerous free radicals before they can damage a cells machinery. Most of these antioxidants come from plants and are called phytochemicals. More than 60,000 such plant chemicals are identified. Among the most effective and dedicated antioxidants are Vitamin A, C, and E (known as the ACE trio against cancer.). Out of these, Vitamin C is the most powerful.

Each cell produces its own antioxidants. But the ability to produce them decreases as we age. That is why diet rich in anti-oxidant and phytochemical rich fruits and vegetables supplemented with additional vitamins and minerals is important.

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