Free radicals can be defined as atoms or just molecules, which are very reactive with other structures in a cell as their electrons are not paired. In other words, the electrons of free radicals are free and bind with atoms of other molecules, thereby affecting the healthy molecules in the body. Simply speaking, free radicals are naturally formed by-products of the continuous biochemical reactions taking continuously place inside our body. Such biochemical reactions include the common metabolic processes as well as the responses of the immune system. Substances that generate free radicals are present in foods we consume daily, water we drink, the medicines and drugs taken by us, and also the air we inhale. Such substances comprise alcohol, tobacco smoke, air pollutants, fried foods, pesticides and several other things.
Free radicals possess the aptitude to harm different cellular elements, including DNA, proteins and cell membranes. They rob the electrons from these cell parts by means of a process known as oxidation. Findings of several studies on free radicals have suggested that when the production of free radicals is enhanced, it results in or speeds up injuries to the nerve cells, thereby causing various diseases.
Free radicals are basically organic molecules, which are responsible for various conditions including tissue damage, aging and perhaps even a number of diseases. Since the electrons of free radicals are not paired they are unstable. As a result, they are on a constantly searching to bond with electrons from other normal molecules, thereby making them unhealthy and persisting with the destructive process further. Antioxidants are beneficial molecules present in a variety of foods. These molecules work to counterbalance the detrimental free radicals and prevent them from causing any harm to the healthy tissues.
Radicals, however, have a vital role in many biological processes. These molecules have a role in a segment of the white blood cells known phagocytes. These phagocytes "consume" bacteria as well as various pathogens present in our body. It is also believed that free radicals have a role in a bodily process known as redox signalling. It is believed that these free radicals serve as cellular messengers in redox signalling.
As free radicals are unstable molecules having unpaired electrons they are capable of destroying the healthy cells in our body by stealing their electrons. Often, this happens due to the usual metabolic processes. The body's use of oxygen during the metabolic processes gives rise to free radicals, which are basically a by-product. These by-products may cause cellular damage inside the body, a process known as "oxidative stress".
The body of a young and healthy person is quite capable of handling the free radicals effectively. As a result, they usually do not notice the cell damages caused by the free radicals. However, not eating properly people are at risk of cellular damages. The same happens when people smoke or come in contact with free radical sources in the environment. In addition, the normal aging process also leads to an increased production of free radicals in the body.
The damage caused by free radicals is not instantaneous, but caused over a period of time. However, when the cells of any organ are damaged by free radicals, that particular organ ceases to function normally. For instance, when collagen is weakened the skin starts becoming more wrinkled. Free radicals may also damage the arterial walls resulting in a build-up of cholesterol plaques, which decreases blood circulation to the heart, brain as well as several other organs. Aside from this, cholesterol build-up inside the arteries may also result in unwanted clotting of blood.
When there is excessive damage due to free radicals it may lead to greater chances of developing various chronic diseases like heart diseases and even a number of cancer forms.
However, free radicals cause a number of processes that are unavoidable. While processes like aging are inevitable, there are other processes like formation of blood clots inside the arteries and DNA destruction triggered by free radicals can certainly be prevented. As discussed above, there are various factors that promote free radical production and they include inappropriate diets, cigarette smoke, environmental pollution and toxins present in herbicides and cleaners. Currently, scientists are studying the role of free radicals in the development of specific forms of cancer, heart disease and stroke. Initial results have shown that when our body has low free radical concentration, the risks of developing heart disease and stroke too are greatly reduced. However, there is a need to undertake further studies to comprehend the relationship between free radicals and various diseases.
Since the electrons of free radicals are unpaired, they are always hungry for more and more electrons from other molecules, especially antioxidants. Several fresh fruits and vegetables, especially the vitamins contained by these foods like vitamins A and B as well as beta-carotene, contain antioxidant molecules. The antioxidant molecules serve as giant builders in the way of a snowball, thereby preventing the free radicals from doing widespread damages. Instead of getting antioxidants by consuming vitamin supplements, you should always try to get them from a balanced diet. This is important because obtaining antioxidants from your diet will help the body to absorb them easily.
Findings of studies have revealed that taking a diet containing elevated amounts of antioxidants is directly related to better health. However, there are certainly various other reasons why taking higher levels of antioxidants is useful for our health. For instance, it has been found that people who take more antioxidants are generally more active physically, in addition to maintaining proper intake of calories.