Free Radical Reduction

Put free radicals in their proper place with these hall-of-fame foods.


| September/October 2003



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Sidebars:

When we were in college, a free radical was a hothead individual who incited the masses and destabilized the old guard. Nowadays, the association has shifted, but the theme remains the same.

In medicine, a free radical is a molecule with a single electron in its outer orbit. Highly charged and unstable, it avidly seeks out other molecules with electrons it can steal. In this process, called oxidation, the electron that was robbed of its mate becomes unpaired and repeats the felony. Unless checked, one free radical can generate hundreds of additional free-radical reactions, causing a string of damaged cells that can lead to aging, cataracts, heart disease, cancer and immune disorders.

We are loaded with free radicals. The act of burning oxygen for energy produces free radicals. Our livers generate free radicals in processing metabolic wastes and drugs. When our immune system attacks viruses or bacteria, our free radicals disarm and destroy the invaders.

We also generate free radicals when we don’t want to. Trauma, infection and aging all result in free-radical production that contributes to inflammation and cellular disruption. Many outside sources create these highly charged molecules as well — environmental pollutants, cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes, pesticides, herbicides, ozone and ionizing radiation, as well as heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, lead and even iron.

As you can see, free radicals are dangerous but not always bad. The danger is when free radical production goes unchecked. For defense, Mother Nature created antioxidants.





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