Free radicals have an unstable bond or unpaired electrons in their outer shell. They are unstable because their outermost shell is not full of electrons. Thus, they want to gain (or lose or share) electrons to become full of electrons in its outermost shell, also known as stable. These free radicals tend to attach the nearest molecule to steal an electron (-). Then that recently stable molecule, who now just lost an electron, is now also an unstable free radical. Then that free radical will look for a nearby molecule to steal an electron to become more stable. Now a chain reaction has occurred. It’s important to stop the free radicals because they will cause more free radicals, or unstable molecules. Free radicals cause oxidative stress/damage to cells & DNA which causes mutations. These mutations may create disease i.e. cancers, CVD, alzheimer’s, parkinson’s, diabetes, rheumatoid…. Free radical generators include, but definitely not limited to, pollution, radiation, smoke i.e. tobacco, pesticides, insecticides, sun, alcohol, asbestos…Free radicals accumulate with age. Thus, it’s important to become proactive NOW!
If you cut an apple in half, oxidation will cause it to brown. But if you poured lemon juice (vitamin C-an antioxidant) on half of the apple, it would greatly slow down the oxidation process which causes the browning. When iron comes in contact with oxidants (ie oxygen & water), oxidation & rust occurs. If free radicals overwhelm the body, it causes oxidative stress. Many studies have shown that free radicals age us quicker, are linked to weight gain & cancers. For example, I’ve seen pictures of identical older twins. Even though they have identical genes, the one that was overweight & smoked appeared several years older. Genetics play an important role & we can’t change our genes. Yet, environmental factors also play an important role & we do have the power/choice to make a positive change ie quit smoking, eating more veggies…This is especially important if you have cancer in your family.
Learn more about preventing free radical damage by reading future parts of this article, joining our “Reduce your 1 in 3 Cancer Risk” seminar/workshop or contacting me for a private consult.
How can you reduce your 1 in 3 cancer risk?
Part 3: What do antioxidants do?
By Melissa Stockman RN, BC-ANP, PNP