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Around Our Town...To Your Health – Getting Radical (Part 1)

04/01/2005 - A topic I have been doing some reading on lately is "Free Radicals". These are not the individuals most of you associate with the '60's. In actuality, we would consider these our body's "molecular terrorists".

What is a free radical? A free radical is a molecule with an unpaired electron. For those of you who forgot most of your high school or college chemistry, electrons like to be in pairs. If a molecule is missing an electron, it will go out and get one from another molecule, thus damaging that molecule.

The three most common molecules attacked are DNA, protein, and fatty acids. Our DNA contains our genetic blueprint which gives our cells instructions. If the free radical damages the DNA it could result in cells not functioning as designed (example – developing cancer cells), and eventually death. Proteins serve a multitude of functions in the body, but the most visible aspect of protein is our form (such as skin). Wrinkles are a form of free radical damage to the skin.

Also DNA, when affected, changes protein development. (double whammy). The third most affected molecule is fatty acids. Cell walls consist of fatty acids and when they are affected, this will alter the functioning of the cell wall, which is very important in the way cells receive information by way of nerve messages or hormones.

So where do these free radicals come from? The #1 cause is breathing (that's not good). Ninety-five percent of the oxygen we breathe we convert by metabolic steps to energy; the other 5% consists of free radicals. It has been shown that prolonged, strenuous exercise such as long distance running will create massive amounts of free radicals resulting in massive amounts of damage to your body. Most people believe the radiation of the sun or x-rays would cause the most damage; although they do create free radical damage, they are number 5 and number six on the list respectively. Stress and environmental toxins are number 3, and number 4 respectively. The number 2 cause of free radical damage, and the most controllable, is inflammation. (I will discuss this in next months issue.)

You are now wondering what can be done to counteract this problem. The answer is antioxidants. An antioxidant is a compound that gives an electron to a free radical thus neutralizing the free radical. The neutralized free radical will leave your DNA, proteins and fatty acids intact. This is a key to health, longevity, (everybody's favorite) slowing down the aging process. Where do you get these antioxidants? At health food stores, but the best and richest source of antioxidants is the produce section of your grocery store. It is recommended that 5 to 10 servings fresh fruits and vegetables daily can provide sufficient antioxidants for neutralizing free radicals, depending on your activity levels.

Next month we will expand a little more on antioxidants and discuss controlling the number to cause of free radicals – inflamation. See ya.

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