Free Radicals: Destroyers of Optimum Health
Within the human body, millions of processes are occurring
at all times. These processes require oxygen and can
create harmful side effects, or oxidant substances,
which cause cell damage and lead to chronic disease.
In much the same way as oxidation creates rust, causing
a breakdown on the surface of inanimate objects; oxidation
inside the body causes a breakdown of cells.
Free radicals produced by this breakdown attack healthy
cells, including DNA, proteins and fats. This chain
of events weakens immunological functions as well as
speeding up the aging process, and is also linked to
several diseases such as cataracts, various forms of
cancer, and heart disease. Most importantly, this free
radical damage accumulates with age.
Free radicals can also be formed:
- As part of the body’s immune system to help
neutralize viruses and bacteria, and
- In reaction to environmental
factors such as pollution, radiation, cigarette
smoke and herbicides.
Once formed these highly reactive radicals can start
a chain reaction. Imagine this analogy – you are
working in an open office with 80 other people. Each
time someone passes your desk, they bind one of their
arms to one of your arms. It wouldn’t take long
until, not only could you not function to do your own
work, but moving freely would be impossible. This is
the end-like effect of free radicals.
The cells can no longer function properly and all processes
fall into dysfunction, totally destroying the cell.
An even greater danger of free radicals is from the
damage they can do when they react with cellular DNA.
This mutation can have serious consequences, such as
The body has several antioxidant enzyme systems within
the body that scavenge free radicals. The most common
- Superoxide Dismutase changes the structure of oxidants
and breaks them down into hydrogen peroxide
- Catalase in turn, breaks down hydrogen peroxide
into water and tiny oxygen particles or gasses
- Glutathione is a detoxifying agent, which binds
with different toxins to change their form so that
they are able to leave the body as waste
The body is designed to handle ‘normal’
loads of free radicals. But if the free radical production
becomes excessive, or if there is insufficient antioxidant
available, damage can occur.
Fighting Free Radicals with Antioxidants
or anti-oxidation agents, reduce the effect of dangerous
oxidants by binding together with these harmful molecules,
decreasing their destructive power. Antioxidants can
also help repair damage already sustained by cells.
Unfortunately, these are not sufficient to deal with
the high levels of toxins we are exposed to today. This
is where antioxidants are invaluable. Antioxidants safely
interact with free radicals and terminate the chain
reaction before vital molecules are damaged.
Impact of Exercise on Free Radical Production
Exercise increases the oxygen utilization rate and
in turn, the rate of generation of free radicals. This
raises the need for additional levels of antioxidants
for sports persons. The body responds to this demand;
with regular physical exercise the antioxidant defence
system is boosted over time to provider greater protection
against exercise induced free radical damage.
On the other hand, intense exercise in untrained individuals
overwhelms defences resulting in increased free radical
damage. Thus, spontaneous ‘get fit quick goals’
may be do more harm than good.
Next: How Exercise Impacts
Causes Index | Why Skin Ages | Behaviour
| Free Radicals | Exercise
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