Saturday, November 17, 2007

Understand Free Radicals & Antioxidants

If you think back to your days in high school or college chemistry, you probably remember the topic of molecules. A molecule has a nucleus at the center and then a certain number of electrons that orbit around the nucleus. Normally, the molecules that make up your body are balanced; they have an even number of electrons.

A free radical is a molecule that has lost one of its electrons leaving it with an odd number of electrons.These unbalanced free radical molecules attempt to stabilize themselves by "stealing" an electron from another healthy molecule. The cells your body where this process is occurring can become injured. The cell may malfunction causing disease or even become malignant causing cancer. It is also widely believed that free radicals are one of the main causes of the aging process.

The body produces free radicals through normal metabolic pathways such as extracting energy from the food we eat. Exposure to the toxins in junk food or polluted air, for example, can also be sources of free radical production. In short, we are exposed to potential sources of free radical production every day of our lives.

Antioxidants are nutritional compounds in whole foods that have extra electrons. When an antioxidant comes in contact with a free radical - the antioxidant "donates" an electron to the free radical. This way, the free radical doesn't have to "steal" an electron from another healthy molecule and the damage normally caused by the free radical can be avoided. The antioxidant nutrients themselves do not become free radicals when they "donate" an electron because they are stable in either form.

The human body is capable of producing antioxidants naturally, but under conditions of a poor diet, toxicity, physical stress or emotional stress this antioxidant production can be severely impaired. Do you know someone who eats a poor diet, has high levels of toxicity and is stressed out much of the time? This is why they may appear older than they actually are.

Eating a healthy whole food diet and drinking plenty of water are two of the best ways to protect your body from the damage of free radicals. Fruits and vegetables provide an excellent source of natural antioxidants to help your body stabilize the free radicals and ward off the damage that they cause.

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