Free Radicals and Your Health


Everybody loves a good bad guy, someone we can point our long accusing fingers at while shouting a satisfying “It’s them, it’s their fault, all of it.” Sometimes we have no idea why we are spreading such accusations. Maybe we were told by someone, sometime after a few wines, in a bar, when the music was far too loud, that this is what’s wrong and this is what we need to do about it. Then we wake up in the morning with such heartfelt passion on the subject. The person that we vaguely remember telling us to read something on Google seemed so informed; they knew what they were talking about.

Our minds are so easily twisted and moulded by the things they see and hear that we often fail to stop and ask if what’s in front of us is the entire picture. We take things on as gospel and make decisions with only half a story. We jump to conclusions, make rash decisions, and point out bad guys where there simply aren’t any and make friends with things we shouldn’t.

Never is this truer than in the quest for eternal youth, health and vitality. Remember that smoking was once a must for calming the nerves? A glass of beer a day was recommended by the doctor and coffee was the sworn enemy? Of course, we all know the havoc that smoking can cause. But many health experts will now tell you to stay away from alcohol all together while the health benefits of the antioxidants found in a couple of cups of coffee a day far outweigh the negative effects of the caffeine content.

While the discussion around alcohol and coffee may go on for some time, the theory within the medical community that free radicals are to blame for a number of major degenerative diseases seems pretty set in stone. Cancer, heart disease, Alzheimers and premature aging have all been linked to this pesky, famous, but little-understood molecule. So surely we are doing the right thing by smashing our bodies with antioxidant-rich foods and supplements that help the body get rid of such an enemy — or maybe not.

The truth is that our body produces free radicals with every breath of air we take in, which, given how dangerous they are, seems strange when you think of all the defensive measures that nature has given us to protect against the threat of disease.

In his audio series “I Know What To Do So Why Don’t I Do It?” Nick Hall, Ph.D., talks about how our health affects our motivation, our drive and our desire to be the best we can be. He goes on to say that two things are essential in the ongoing defense against infections and disease — Vitamin C and free radicals.

“Yes, free radicals are absolutely essential if you are going to stay healthy. So don’t fall for this myth that is being perpetrated throughout society that if you have any free radicals in your body you’re going to be prone to heart disease and cancer,” says Dr. Hall.

“That does happen but only if you have an excess. Like everything in the body, you don’t want too much and you don’t want too little, but you’ve got to have the right amount. And if you have an illness called Chediaki-Higashi Syndrome, which is characterized by the insufficient production of free radicals, you will be sick all of the time.”

To understand why this is, we have to look at how these pesky free radicals work. Simply put, they are unstable molecules. This is due to a missing electron — and like everything in the known universe, all they want to do is find stability. To achieve this, they literally steal the missing electron from other molecules within the body. This is a great asset in the body’s fight against intrusive bacterial infection and viruses, for the free radicals steal the missing electron from them, stopping them in their tracks.

Dr. Hall does go on to admit that we still need to keep free radicals in check, but a 2014 study conducted at McGill University in Canada takes the free radical debate even further.

“People believe that free radicals are damaging and cause aging, but the so-called ‘free radical theory of aging’ is incorrect,” says Siegfried Hekimi, a professor in McGill’s Department of Biology and senior author of the study during an interview for the university website.

“We have turned this theory on its head by proving that free radical production increases during aging because free radicals actually combat — not cause — aging. In fact, in our model organism we can elevate free radical generation and, thus, induce a substantially longer life.”

Which begs the question, are we doing ourselves harm by hammering our diet with antioxidants? Many reports do suggest that we should slow down our intake and that overdosing on the likes of N-acetyl cysteine, beta-carotene and vitamin A supplements can increase the spread of cancer and the risk of lung disease.

I know it’s a massive, confusing mess of uncertainty, but if we think about it logically, the answer to what to do is an obvious one. “Supplements can plug dietary gaps, but nutrients from food are most important,” reports Harvard Health Publications.

All of our vitamins and minerals should come solely from the food we eat. Then, and only then, can we achieve the healthy balance that our body needs to thrive. Get regular check ups with your doctor, as well, and if needed, consult the help of a qualified dietician. Exercise regularly and most importantly, take time to relax by taking a walk in nature, watching a movie or laughing with friends and family — then let the body work its very own type of magic.

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Roy Skillen
Roy Skillen is a freelance writer from Melbourne, South Australia. Contact him at [email protected].


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