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FAQ – Free Radicals And Your Health

Written by Courteney

Posted on August 1, 2016 at 6:28 pm


We are constantly hearing the terms “free radicals” and “antioxidants” nowadays, from the television, medical professionals or in articles – but what does it all mean, and more importantly, how can these terms influence your health? Hopefully by the end of this article, we will have answered these questions and more.

What Are “Free Radicals”, Really?

Free radicals are actually normal parts of chemical processes in the body whereby molecules in a cell split apart, creating incomplete and unstable chemicals called ‘free radicals’. These free radicals then try to bond with electrons in other cell molecules, effectively pulling them apart as well which creates more and more free radicals. This process is known as oxidation. The problem lies when free radicals overpopulate in the body, causing a chain reaction of too many imbalanced cell molecules.

Why Are They Harmful?

Free radicals have been gaining attention in recent years because medical research has proven that our environment and lifestyles are causing a disproportionate amount of free radical activity in our bodies. These free radical surpluses react with oxygen and can actually damage or even destroy cells, irreparably altering DNA. This directly contributes to the development of numerous serious diseases and conditions. Oxygen plus free radical overpopulation in tandem with the body’s inability to detoxify these effects quick enough is known as oxidative stress.

What Types of Things Cause Oxidative Stress?

Some of the things that cause oxidative stress which can lead to the development of diseases include:

  • Unmanaged chronic stress
  • Sedentary lifestyles or excess exercising
  • Processed and junk foods
  • Not consuming enough produce
  • Smoking, drinking or recreational drugs
  • Too many prescription medications
  • Pollution, synthetic scents and chemical exposure
  • Sleep deficiencies
  • Sun damage or other radiation exposure

What Health Problems Can Develop As a Result?

One of the more serious and widespread health problems that results from a free radical surplus is cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, if there are too many free radicals loose in the body, they can cause irreparable damage to cells, membranes and even DNA. Once these damaged cells replicate, they change the makeup of all reproduced cells to follow, resulting in cancer. Other serious health problems that can result from free radicals run amok include: atherosclerosis, asthma, dementia, inflammatory diseases, diabetes and eye diseases.

Can Your Doctor Determine Your Level of Free Radicals?

No, unfortunately there is no laboratory blood test to measure the number of free radicals in your body, however, if you are concerned about cancer there are medical tests that will indicate whether your blood cell counts are within a healthy range.

How do Antioxidants Come Into Play?

Antioxidants are nutrients that work to slow oxidation, thus limiting the damage caused to cells by excess free radicals. So, antioxidants essentially help neutralize free radicals. They are found in many fruits as well as other healthy foods. Keep an eye out for our post on anti-oxidant rich foods to find out more.

How Else Can You Neutralize a Surplus of Free Radicals?

Other lifestyle steps you can take to prevent oxidative stress including:

  • Quit smoking and limit alcohol consumtion
  • Exercise routinely
  • Eat healthy (consuming mostly produce)
  • Get better sleep
  • Manage your stress
  • Limit toxin exposure (wear a mask when working with harmful substances)
  • Try to limit exposure to pollutants (check the air quality index)

Keep an eye out for a post on antioxidant rich foods soon! Thanks for visiting DocChat! Feel free to sign up today if you have any health-related questions for our board certified physicians!

 

 

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