Thursday, May 6, 2010

Free radicals – but who wants them?

I’ll give you a very simplistic definition of ‘free radicals’. (I'm not a chemist)

Free radicals are atoms or molecules with unpaired electrons. The ‘missing’ electrons make these atoms and molecules highly reactive in that they will scavenge for an electron, attaching to and destroying other atoms and molecules. Free radicals occur naturally in the body, and not all of them are bad: some help to kill germs and fight bacteria. External triggers causing free radicals include tobacco smoke, chemicals, exhaust emissions, radiation and alcohol.

Free radical damage is thought to be responsible for: heart disease, many cancers, ageing and post-exercise muscle soreness. Unchecked free radicals can damage DNA, destroy enzymes and disrupt red blood cell membranes. They are undoubtedly involved in tissue damage in, for example, rheumatoid arthritis, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and malignancies.

What can we do to protect ourselves? Most of the external triggers are unavoidable in today’s polluted atmosphere. And free radicals occur naturally anyway.

Bring on the big guns – antioxidants.
Antioxidants disarm free radicals and render them harmless. So where do antioxidants come from? I’ll take the super large size package, please.

Antioxidants come from:
  • Vitamins A, C and E
  • Selenium
  • Carotenes
  • Flavonoids
  • Phytochemicals
and these are all in the top ten foods to fight free radicals:
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Plums
  • Oranges
  • Red grapes
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Beetroot
  • Kale
Which only goes to show that when you eat a good variety of foods from each of the different food groups every day, and you keep your food colourful, Nature supplies everything you need.

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