A free radical is a molecule missing an electron. It sounds complicated, but all you need to know for now is that molecule will then go on a rampage to steal an electron from any other molecule it can.
Free radicals are necessary for us to survive. One free radical that is a household name is hydrogen peroxide. Cells produce and utilize hydrogen peroxide for signaling, destroying pathogens, and activating white blood cells. Even some of the symbiotic bacteria in our intestines produce hydrogen peroxide, keeping unwanted invaders in check.
Free radicals get news coverage because of the damage they can cause in the body. We cannot get away from them. Whatever we put into our body, by our consent or not, can contribute to free radical buildup. Internal chemical reactions, such as metabolizing oxygen — even from the purest possible air — also yields these unstable molecules, through a process called oxidation.
It is this instability that makes free radicals so effective, for better or worse. These molecules are highly reactive, and when they bind to other molecules the result is damaging. Free radicals can damage cellular DNA, cause inflammation, accelerate aging, and contribute to various chronic diseases.
Remember how free radicals rampage around looking to replace its lost electron? Well, when it finally steals one what happens to the cellular molecules that were the victims of this theft? They become free radicals too, thus starting a chain reaction sometimes referred to as oxidative stress.
The body’s response to free radicals and oxidation are well known these days: antioxidants. From vitamin C to glutathione, the body — and nature — provide many antioxidants to keep free radical damage to a minimum.
Antioxidants have the ability to donate one of their own electrons to free radicals without becoming a free radical themselves, thus stopping the chain reaction or preventing it from beginning in the first place.
So if your body has plenty of antioxidants, the chain reaction never occurs, or is minimal. The trouble is that, with more environmental stressors all the time, diets that are incomplete, and foods that grow in depleted soil, most people have more free radicals than antioxidants. What you need to have is the opposite.
So how can you tell where your antioxidant level is sitting and how heavy your free radical load is? A simple blood and urine test.
The blood test portion checks antioxidant and key enzyme levels. The blood test also provides information about oxidative damage by measuring lipid peroxides, the oxidized, degraded form of cell membranes.
The urine sample checks free radical damage by looking for lipid peroxides and 8-hydroxy-deoxyguanosine, an indicator of DNA damage.
The best way to deal with oxidative stress is to ensure a healthy diet with a variety of colours in the fruit and vegetable portion. The more colourful, the higher the antioxidant content.
In the mean-time, testing is a great way to see how your body is doing and potentially mitigate the risk of chronic diseases. You never know how much better you can feel. Contact us to find out.