by Dr Gordon Chang, PhD
Free radicals are very active chemical groups and research studies have shown they may in fact cause or worsen all diseases. There are many different types of free radicals and they occur in every organ in the body. Free radicals are also believed to be responsible for producing the visible and invisible signs of aging.
What Exactly IS A Free Radical?
Free radicals are very chemically reactive, unstable molecules and they are created whenever a previously stable molecule gains an electron. They are constantly being produced in the environment and also in the human body.
For example, whenever ultraviolet radiation enters the eye, the UV rays can react with a normally stable molecule to form a free radical molecule. Whenever one free radical molecule meets another stable molecule it reacts with it to form two free radical molecules. These two free radical molecules then meet another two stable molecules, react with them and form four free radical molecules. In turn, these four free radical molecules can then react with another four stable molecules to form eight free radical molecules and so on. It is therefore easy to imagine a scenario where there is an infinite number of free radical molecules formed because of one free radical molecule.
Antioxidants to the Rescue
If the spread of free radicals is not quickly stopped they can destroy the body’s tissues. Fortunately, there are several types of molecules called antioxidants which will react with free radicals and absorb the spare electron, thus stopping the propagation and formation of new free radical molecules. The body is able to produce several different types of these antioxidants (e.g. – glutathione) but antioxidants are also absorbed from the food that we eat. The types of antioxidant molecules absorbed from our diet are very important because not every antioxidant is capable of reacting with every free radical to stop the formation of new free radicals. In other words, some types of antioxidants are specific to certain types of free radicals. Additionally, the location where the body stores these absorbed antioxidants is key (For example, if the absorbed antioxidant is stored in the liver this antioxidant will be not be available for stopping free radical spread occurring in the lung).
Antioxidant molecules may be stored at very strategic locations in the body. The number of antioxidant molecules stored and the location of the stored antioxidants is dependent on the type of antioxidant. It thus becomes important to consume as wide a variety of anti-oxidant molecules as possible. For example, the antioxidant lutein and antioxidants derived from Bilberry are known to inhibit cataract formation and macula degeneration because these antioxidants are preferentially stored in the tissues of the eyes. Likewise the anti-oxidant lycopene is preferentially stored in the prostate, testes, the adrenal glands and also in the liver. It is therefore not surprising to note that lycopene has been shown to decrease the incidence of prostate cancer.
In summary, the combination of a healthy diet and lifestyle, exercise and nutritional supplements which include anti-oxidants is a good choice to prevent disease and slow down the aging process. However, taking just one type of anti-oxidant cannot protect from the large variety of free radical molecules commonly encountered by the body. Research has shown that your best choice for anti-oxidant supplementation is a product that contains several different anti-oxidants to build a defence network and to help you achieve the desired anti-aging results.