Free radicals are highly reactive molecules, or single atoms with unpaired electrons, looking for a mate to stabilize themselves. They steal an electron from the first molecule they encounter, perhaps a cell wall or a strand of DNA. Antioxidants are molecules that have extra electrons to donate to free radicals, thereby neutralizing them.
As free-radical damage mounts, cells can no longer perform optimally. Tissues degradation begins, and disease sets in gradually. An excess of free radicals has been implicated in the development of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and cancer, among others. Aging itself has been defined as a gradual accumulation of free radical damage.By age 50, it is estimated that a large part of our cellular protein has oxidative damage.
Yet not all free radicals are bad.
Benefits of Free Radical
Free radicals are necessary for life. The body cannot turn air and food into chemical energy without a chain reaction at the mitochondria involving energy production and free radicals as its by-product. Free radicals are also a crucial part of the immune system, attacking foreign invaders. They help fight against bacteria.
The production of free radicals and destruction of free radicals in a non-harmful manner is also the result of normal metabolic processes in the body. Endogenous and exogenous antioxidants mop up some of them up. The body hopes to avoid excessive free-radical production, but it a certain amount is absolutely necessary for life.
The free-radical theory of aging (FRTA) states that organisms age because cells accumulate free radical damage over time. A free radical is any atom or molecule that has a single unpaired electron in an outer shell.