FREE RADICALS are highly reactive, unstable molecules, naturally produced in the body but held in check by the body under normal circumstances. This balance system can be overwhelmed by a diet which promotes the production of even more free radicals.
Free radicals contain one or more unpaired electrons, making them unstable. To achieve stability, the free radical steals an electron from a stable compound. As a result, the formerly stable compound becomes reactive, causing the oxidation that interferes with normal cell function and the mutation of cells.
The oxidation of fats is one such reaction altering literally hundreds of fatty acid molecules. When this happens, it can cause irreparable damage to cell membranes and genetic material. Fatty acid molecules can also decompose to yield a range of products highly toxic to body tissues. This kind of reaction can occur in foods containing rancid polyunsaturated fats resulting in the formation of harmful chemicals which contribute to the disease process. Air, heat, or light can also initiate oxidation causing deterioration and rancidity.
If the oxidation of fats were allowed to continue with nothing stopping it, it would eventually destroy body cells completely. Many foods contain antioxidants that come to the rescue, destroying free radicals. Some antioxidants can stabalize free radicals, while others prevent the chain reaction by tying up chemicals that increase the rate of oxidation.
Peroxides are among the free radicals that are by-products of fat molecules reacting with oxygen. They are formed by radiation and are present in air pollution, ozone, and cigarette smoke. (Other examples of oxidation are the rusting of iron and the browning of apples).
Free radicals assault nucleic acids and the genetic code in each cell. Damaged DNA can disrupt the growth and repair of such tissues leading to serious diseases with over fifty being directly identified to date. Free radicals speed the formation of brown spots on the skin and internal organs – a sign of fatty degeneration. These brown spots contain denatured oils and protein (lipofuscin) and are found, most notably on the hands and face, as well as in heart muscle cells and the brains of older people. This is most apparent with the consumption of refined oils which have antioxidants removed. Over time, these cells take up more and more area eventually choking and killing normal cells.
Every cell in the body is subjected to an estimated 10,000 hits per day by free radicals. Antioxidants (such as Vitamins A,E, and C) protect the body against free radicals by giving up one of its own electrons to stabilize the free radical so that it is no longer toxic or reactive. As a result, the free radical does not have to seek out and grab an electron from a healthy cell. Antioxidants remain stable even after donating their electrons becoming neither toxic nor reactive.
Cataracts are formed on the lens of the eye when proteins in the lens are damaged by chronic exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays and a strong generation of free radicals. Free radicals tend to clump together making the lens opaque (which is the cataract) causing blurred vision. This is just one such condition caused by free radical formation left unchecked.
Free radicals are increasing because of several factors:
1) increasing deficiencies in processed food and the consumer’s desire for them.
2) an imbalanced use of essential fatty acid ratio.
3) the ever-increasing presence of synthetic and toxic substances such as drugs, trans fatty acids, pesticides, preservatives, colors, flavorings, chemical pollutants, heavy metals, etc (including the medical professions advocacy of treating everything with drugs).
All these things not only increase the formation of free radicals, but deplete the body of the necessary nutrients to fight them off.