Free radicals are basically molecules having unpaired electrons. It may be noted that molecules are the fundamental elements in nature, for instance, fatty acids, oxygen, glucose, amino acids and DNA. These molecules are bound together by means of electrons. Stable molecules possess electrons that are always in pairs, akin to a partner system. In the event of a molecule having an electron without a partner, it turns out to be unstable as well as reactive – which is actually a free radical. A free radical actually steals an electron from a stable molecule to become stable itself.
This is a very natural process in the external world, but as far as the body is concerned, it may lead to uncalled for as well as undesired harm. When the stable molecule drops an electron, it also becomes a new free radical. Like the first free radical, the second one will also pilfer an electron from another stable molecule, and, this result in the beginning of a destructive cycle. Every time any molecule loses an electron, it is harmed and will eventually also harm another stable molecule.
Free radicals originate from three resources – the human body, the environment as well as chain reactions of free radical. Every moment, our bodies create free radicals continuously. All living cells require energy to survive. This energy is received from reactions concerning oxygen and a variety of substances. While this process continues, intermediaries of oxygen are created, counting hydroxyl radicals and superoxide. These intermediates are called free radicals. Workouts, ailments and specific medicines augment reactions related to oxygen within our bodies, as a result enhancing the number of free radicals created.
Furthermore, the human immune systems particularly make free radicals to destroy viruses as well as bacteria. When harmful microorganisms invade our body and our immune system works tirelessly, an incredible number of free radicals are formed with a view to prevail over the infection. On such occasions, regulating the unnecessary deluge of free radicals is essential for protecting the vigorous tissues from any type of harm.
In addition, free radicals are also vital for producing essential hormones, or biological messengers, within the body. A number of free radicals stimulate specific enzymes that generate a wide assortment of substances, for instance, prostaglandins – the chemical regulators of the body.
It is obvious that free radicals are also crucial for our health. Devoid of free radicals, it would not be possible for us to generate energy, produce the chemical substances required by our body or combat the contagious agents. Hence, it is extremely vital to comprehend from the start that the free radicals are not always bad. It is only when there is an unnecessary or extreme and unrestrained amounts of free radicals within us, it may cause harm to our body.
As aforementioned, the environment is the second basis of free radicals. Things like air pollution, extreme radiation, tobacco smoke, poisonous waste as well as runoffs, pesticides and herbicides all create free radicals that we breathe in or consume. For example, ozone is a highly reactive air that is produced by vehicle exhaust. When we inhale ozone, it develops free radicals within the tissues in our lungs. Furthermore, as blood is incessantly being pumped to the lungs for oxygen supply, free radicals induced by ozone may also entail the blood, thereby reducing the supply of oxygen to the different parts of the body.
Several health problems during the last some decades may be associated to the growing use of detrimental chemicals as well as proficiencies, resulting in an immensely more production of free radicals compared to what existed a few generations back. Optimistically, the ‘green movement’ for purifying as well as conserving our environment will lead to a remarkable lessening of the sources of free radicals in the environment, considerably reducing chronic and serious ailments. It is important to remember that if we treat the Earth well, she will also treat us well.
Free radicals give rise to other free radicals in chain reactions. As mentioned before, free radicals generate a second free radical, which eventually produces a third, and so forth. However, if the development of free radicals remains unrestrained, it may cause cellular damage. Such a complex pattern makes free radicals so harmful. While a free radical recovers its electron by stealing it from another stable molecule, it is unable to recover its initial structure and utility – since it is already damaged. As a result, it is not akin to forwarding a hot potato for some other person to be concerned. Contrarily, it is more akin to spreading fire – something that is burnt up can never remain the same again.
Free radicals are basically organic molecules that are accountable for damage of tissues, aging and probably even a number of ailments. Since these molecules are extremely unstable, they require bonding with other molecules, devastating their health and carrying on the process of damaging further. It may be noted that antioxidants found in several foods are actually molecules that thwart the free radicals from causing harm to the tissues that are vigorous.
Free radicals have a vital function in numerous biological processes. In effect, free radicals perform their task in the white blood cells’ work, a process called phagocytes, which ‘consume’ bacteria as well as other pathogens within the body. In addition, it is also believed that the free radicals are concerned in a process known as redox signalling, wherein they are believed to work in the form of cellular messengers.
It is worth mentioning here that free radicals are called ‘free’ since they drift around till they steal an electron from a stable molecule and stabilize themselves. The term ‘radical’ denotes that there are great assortments of molecules from which they are able to acquire an electron to be come stable. However, the harm does not end at this, since the new molecule, for instance, a portion of a cell wall, will henceforth be missing an electron and turn out to be another free radical. This mounting impact has the possibility to cause havoc on the tissues that are still healthy.
Usually, bonds do not come apart in the manner that results in a molecule having an abnormal, unpaired electron. However, when feeble bonds are split, it leads to the formation of free radicals. As mentioned earlier, free radicals are extremely unstable and react rapidly with different compounds, in their endeavour to acquire the required electron to become stable again. In general, free radicals invade the stable molecule close to them, and ‘steal’ their electron. Losing its electron, the invaded molecule itself becomes a free radical, starting a chain reaction. When this process has already begun, it has the ability to surge, eventually leading to the disorder of a living cell.
A number of free radicals occur naturally during the metabolic process. Occasionally, the cells of the body’s immune system deliberate from them with a view to counteract bacteria and viruses. Nevertheless, environmental aspects, such as pollution, tobacco smoke, pesticides and herbicides also generate free radicals.
In general, the human body possesses the aptitude to deal with free radicals, however, when there is an absence of antioxidants, or in case the production of free radicals exceeds certain limits, there may be some danger. What is of specific importance is the fact that the harm caused by free radicals mounts as an individual ages.
The main threat of free radicals comes from the harm they may cause when they react with vital cellular constituents like the cell membrane or DNA. When such damages are caused, the cells are likely to perform inadequately or even die. The body has a self defence mechanism of antioxidants, which help in avoiding the free radicals from causing such damages. Since the body is unable to produce these micronutrients, it is essential to supply them through our diet. Some of these essential micronutrients which help in neutralizing free radicals are noted below.
Vitamin E-d-alpha tocopherol is a vitamin that is soluble in fat and is found in vegetables, seeds, nuts, whole grains (particularly in wheat germ), fish oils, apricot, and fortified cereals. The present RDA (recommended daily allowance) of this vitamin is 15 IU every day for men and 12 IU every day for women.
Vitamin C is soluble in water and found in green peppers, citrus fruits as well as juices, spinach, cabbage, kale, broccoli, kiwi, strawberries and cantaloupe. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C is 60 mg every day. Ingesting more that 2000 mg of vitamin C may possibly be related to some adverse side effects in some people.
It may be noted that beta-carotene is actually an antecedent to vitamin A (retinol) and is found in grains, liver, milk, butter, egg yolk, carrots, broccoli, spinach, tomato, yams, peaches, squash and cantaloupe. Since the body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, there is no fixed requirement for this micronutrient. As an alternative, the RDA of beta-carotene is stated as retinol equivalents or RE, with a view to make the relationship clear.
Damage on a cellular level
Take the case of any healthy cell. Any robust cell will contain membrane proteins that work in the form of fingerprints of that particular cell in order to enable other cells to identify it. In addition, a healthy cell has membrane lipids, put together in an orderly bi-layer. Precisely speaking, this denotes that while one layer of lipids faces outwardly of the cell, the other layer faces inward. In effect, the membrane lipids are different as well as detached from one another, still compactly packed with the aim of forming the cell membrane, which is actually the defensive coating of the cell. Furthermore, any healthy cell also encloses a nuclear membrane that activates the control center of the cell – the nucleus. The vital genetic material, for instance, the DNA, is accommodated within the nucleus in careful, tidy twofold helices. Apart from these, there are several other vital materials which comprise a healthy cell.
The free radicals are capable of causing several damages, which may include breaking off the membrane proteins and devastating the identity of a cell. They may also combine the lipids as well as membrane proteins together, making the cell membrane stiff and feeble or fragile. In some cases, free radicals also perforate the cell membrane, thereby permitting bacteria as well as viruses to enter the cell without any difficulty. Free radicals are also known to dislocate the nuclear membrane, thereby exposing the nucleus as well as the genetic substances. In addition, free radicals also transmute as well as obliterate the immune system, reworking and demolishing the genetic arrangement. Last, but not the least, free radicals also weigh down the immune system by creating the havoc mentioned above, in addition to menacing the immune system itself by means of weakening the immune cells by causing damages that are similar to what has been mentioned earlier.
Such a chaotic scenario becomes all the more chaotic, since cellular damage may mount up to develop into an advanced state of any ailment. Like a solitary minute nail lying on the expressway has the potential of resulting in a massive disaster, a free radical can also lead to as well as degenerate grave health conditions like heart ailments, atherosclerosis, AIDS, cataracts, cancer, skin cancer and even aging.