Free Radicals Summed Up:
A Free Radical is an atom or molecule that is unstable due to having an unpaired electron. To balance itself the Free Radical steals an electron from another molecule in your body. This process, called Oxidation, results in changing the molecule with the stolen electron into a Free Radical and thus, often creates a domino effect of Free Radical damage. Free Radicals are created in our own bodies when they make energy and when they are fighting infections and inflammation. They also come from outside sources like the environment, drugs, cigarette smoke, toxic chemicals, and pesticides.
While seemingly bad, they do have some benefits: They kill bacteria, activate genes, help the liver detox and provide blood vessel relaxation. On the contrary, Free Radicals damage other molecules and tissues, increase the chances of gene mutations if they damage DNA (a permanent alteration in the DNA sequence that makes up a gene), oxidize LDL cholesterol, which can cause coronary artery blockage and can effect energy production if the mitochondria (also known as the powerhouses of cells) is damaged. They also contribute to aging and have been linked to over 60 diseases such as:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Cardiovascular disease
While Free Radicals are unavoidable to some degree, you can take precautions to limit your exposure by doing the following:
- Buy non-toxic cleaning supplies
- Avoid smoking/drugs and limiting alcohol intake
- Buy organic produce, and if you aren’t able to go all organic, the dirty dozen list is great to reference. It highlights what produce has the highest amount of toxins. At the least, buy organic for any produce that falls on this list.
- Avoid foods with Trans-fats- Read food labels and look for the ingredient “hydrogenated oil”. Food companies can say a food has 0 Trans-fats as long as it is below .5 grams. Trans-fats are found in everything from fried foods, cookies, cakes, chips, and more. Eating whole foods is a surefire way to avoid Trans-fats.
- Protect yourself against prolonged exposure to the sun- Wear a hat, use an umbrella at the beach, and use a quality oil like coconut or Vitamin E to protect your skin.
- Limiting sugar and animal protein in your diet
- Practice stress reduction like yoga, meditation, journaling and spending time in nature as stress hormones also create Free Radicals.
Meet Antioxidants, Free Radical’s Worst Nightmare
You hear the term Antioxidants a lot and know that they are good for you, but WHY? Antioxidants are molecules that eliminate Free Radicals, and are known as Free Radical Scavengers. They neutralize or get rid of the damage from Free Radicals by giving electrons to them, so they don’t steal electrons from other molecules. They also repair cell damage that Free Radicals cause. Glutathione is considered the body’s most powerful antioxidant, and has the power to maximize the ability of all other antioxidants, like Vitamin C and E. As you get older, your body isn’t able to make glutathione as well, but there are nutrients that help to promote its production including:
- High-quality whey protein (look for organic, and grass-fed)
- Curcumin (found in turmeric)
- Raw dairy
- Grass-fed meat
While the body makes some antioxidants like Glutathione, it isn’t able to make enough to protect our bodies against the amount of Free Radicals the body has to constantly deal with. That’s where eating a diet rich in antioxidants is important, such as:
Foods high in Vitamin E: Olive oil, avocado, almonds, kale, and papaya.
Foods high in Vitamin C: Strawberries, pineapple, grapefruit, oranges, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower.
Beta-carotene rich foods: Carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, cantaloupe and broccoli.
Selenium rich foods: Brazil nuts, meat, mushrooms, seafood, eggs, and sunflower seeds.
Foods high in Zinc: Oysters, peas, ginger root, peanuts, almonds, and pecans.
Foods high in Carotenoids: Found in orange, red, and yellow fruit and vegetables like sweet potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes, and also in dark, leafy greens like kale.
Foods high in Flavonoids (Polyphenols): Found in purple grapes, cranberries, raspberries, green tea, apples and blackberries.
In conclusion, while you can and should make some lifestyle changes to reduce your exposure to Free Radical damage, they will inevitably be something your body has to fight. Luckily you can help your body defend these pesky Free Radicals by eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and plants.