Free Radicals: What are they?
Researchers studying free radicals have estimated they are responsible for causing 80 - 90% of the degenerative diseases that afflict the human race.
The discovery of free radicals, and the theories regarding their effect on living tissue has perhaps answered many of the questions asked about premature ageing. In addition to being the cause of the ageing process, free radicals are thought to be the culprits of major heart disease, arthritis and cancer. The common nicknames of " The Invisible Destroyers" and "The Cellular Terrorists" give an valuable insight to thedestructive effect free radicals have on all living tissue.
In simple terms, a Free Radical is an atom or molecule that has an uneven number of electrons on its external orbit. This imbalance makes the molecule very unstable and immensely reactive, as normal molecules or atoms always have matched pairs of electrons. A highly destructive chain reaction begins when a molecule, thrown out of balance by the loss of one electron, rampages around other molecules looking for a mate, in the process doing everything in its power to break up existing electron couples. The renegade molecule attacks normal molecules, breaking up the electron couples and forcing the abandoned electrons to search for other mates, thus creating more free radical molecules.
Free Radicals are produced as the toxic waste by the mitochondria (the energy plants in every cell), primarily in the presence of oxygen and ultra-violet radiation. In the human body our cells are constantly, consuming oxygen in the presence of ultra violet, (the sun) therefore free radicals have constant access to more partners and the destructive chain reaction continues. The immune system creates the same destructive types of free radicals; then uses them to kill bacteria and viruses. In the process of destroying these unwanted agents, large quantities of free radicals are "spilled" in the process. In the human body, Free Radicals are known to be attracted to the lipids in cellular membranes, and to the proteins collagen and elastin. They are theorised to attack the cell membranes, making the cell walls progressively less rigid and unable to absorb nutrients or excrete waste; thus, cell deterioration is inevitable.
Free Radicals are also responsible for attacks on the building blocks of life DNA and RNA, as well as breaking down mucopolysacharides and hyaluronic acids. The breakdown of these vital interstitial fluids will ultimately damage living and future generations of epidermal cells. This damage will result in the cell metabolism slowing, leading to the degeneration of the skin and the first signs of ageing.
Fortunately, the body has developed enzyme systems (catalase and dismutase superoxide), and chemical molecules (Vit E and C) that neutralise great numbers o free radicals, protecting the body by reducing the number it is exposed to, and also helping the prevention of damage. Any life form exposed to oxygen requires similar enzymes in order to survive.