Free radicals and antioxidants are two commonly used terms. However, few of us seem to know what they actually represent. Today we would like to clear the water around those terms and help you grasp a better understanding of what radicals and antioxidants are.
What exactly is a free radical?
As you might already know, metabolism is the term which signifies the chemical reactions that occur in our bodies, including digestion and transport of substances into and between different cells. So when your metabolism transforms food into energy, that energy is used for maintaining life processes. If we take look at the process on a cellular level, this process is, in fact, cellular respiration- glucose from food is being transformed into ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and byproducts. Precisely these byproducts are what we call “free radicals”. Free radicals are unstable chemical compounds- they are atoms, a group of atoms or molecules that miss an electron. In order to get that electron and ensure its stability, every free radical attacks the nearest cell and takes an electron from it. When missing an electron, that cell transforms into a new free radical. That triggers an avalanche-like process which attacks the cells in our organism and interferes with their division (regeneration) and thus damaging the genetic material they carry. Do you get now why free radicals, aging and cancer are commonly found in the same sentence?
*ATP or adenosine triphosphate– cellular energy or the “currency” with which all the cells within our organism operate in order to perform metabolic processes.
The good news:
In certain cases, our bodies also produce free radicals. The immune system is a good example of this: white blood cells reproduce free radicals that attack virus cells entering our organism. Therefore, free radicals trigger the biologic reaction of the tissue in the blood system which ultimate goal is to disarm the “foreign” virus cells and repair the damaged “theirs”.
Then where is the problem with free radicals?
By now we know that free radicals are formed naturally during the metabolic processes and even play a supporting function. Problem is, however, when the process of producing free radicals occurs with higher speed and results in overgeneration. Overgeneration of free radicals occurs when our body has to process great amount of toxic material (tobacco, alcohol, polluted air, “E-” food additives, sun or X-ray radiation). In this case, the free radicals are many more and much more aggressive then these formed naturally within the metabolic processes.
The antidote: Antioxidants
Antioxidants are the natural solution against excessive amount of free radicals. In short, antioxidants are electron donors. They give electrons to the cells which have theirs taken by the free radicals thus discontinuing the attacks of the free radicals on the cells. Therefore, we can make the logical conclusion that when antioxidants give one electron to a cell they automatically turn into free radicals. However, the incredible mechanism of our bodies would not allow that as antioxidants usually come in composition with phytochemicals that help them regenerate and recycle after having donated an electron to a damaged cell.
What are the antioxidants?
In fact, antioxidants are not a group of nutrients like minerals or vitamins. They are substances (either vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, etc.) which have an antioxidant effect. Antioxidants are separated into two categories: Water-soluble and Liposoluble.
circulate within our bloodstream but do not retain in our organism for long as they are being ejected by the kidneys. Their help is mainly for neutralizing free radicals that are being released when breathing and smoking. Good example of such water-soluble antioxidant is Vitamin C.
are held in our organism for much longer. They move towards the fatty tissues where they accumulate, thus having a long-term positive effect. They help skin regeneration or more precisely the collagen matrix (when collagen matrix is damaged skin elasticity reduces which results in wrinkles). In order to assist your liposoluble antioxidants do their job, it is a good idea to fuel your body with enough fats in which liposoluble antioxidants can dissolve. For example, seasoning your salad with extra virgin olive oil, eating enough raw nuts, fish and full-fat dairy.
Where to find antioxidants?
Water soluble Antioxidants:
- Vitamin C- found in bell peppers, oranges, parsley, lemons, grapefruit, cabbage, etc.
- Anthocyanins- found in raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, honey, olive oil and cocoa
- Alpha lipoic acid- found in spinach and broccoli
- Glutathione- found in asparagus, watermelon and walnuts
- Vitamin A- found in bell peppers, carrots, black pepper, parsley
- Vitamin E- found in linseed oil, sunflower seeds, almonds and hazelnuts
- Beta-carotene- found in carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, vine leaves, rocket, sweet potatoes
- Resveratrol- found in red grapes, blueberries, red wine
- Coenzyme Q10- as a food supplement