Free Radicals – How They Damage Your Cells
Just as a piece of metal rusts or an apple turns brown when exposed to air, the human body is vulnerable from contact with air. It’s the downside of being an oxygen breather. If you could view the microscopic world of your body at the cellular level, you’d witness your cells under attack from damaging molecules called free radicals- the byproducts of our own metabolism. Free radicals are electrically-charged molecules that attack your cells, tearing through cellular membranes to react and create havoc with the nucleic acids, proteins, and enzymes inside.
These attacks by free radicals – collectively known as oxidative stress – are capable of causing cells to lose their structure, their function, and eventually destroying them. Not only does our body normally produce them, but the air we breathe contains free radicals in the form of toxins and pollutants.
The Effects of Free Radical Damage
Can you feel the effect of free radical damage? Not immediately. But unless you take the necessary steps to help counteract the unrelenting attack from free radicals, you run the risk of allowing cumulative damage to your tissues, joints, organ systems and blood vessels. And you can feel these effects. Overall, free radicals have been implicated in the kidney disease, cataracts, inflammatory bowel disease, colitis, lung dysfunction, pancreatitis, drug reactions, skin lesions, and aging, to mention a few. Heart disease and cancer are two of the most widespread diseases associated with free radical damage. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America today, killing an estimated one in every three Americans. Several factors, such as high blood cholesterol levels, hypertension, cigarette smoking, and diabetes, are chief culprits in the promotion of heart disease.
But, more and more studies are linking low intakes of dietary antioxidants to an increased risk of heart disease. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in this country. It is estimated that deficient diets may be associated with approximately 35% of all human cancers. The amount of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables included in one’s diet appears to have a significant impact on cancer risk. Many scientific studies have reported that a reduction in cancer risk is associated with a diet high in antioxidant vitamins, such vitamin C.
Free Radicals and Chronic Fatigue
Free radical damage has also been associated with the symptoms of chronic fatigue. In the human body, energy comes from the mitochondria, commonly referred to as the energy power houses of cells. The mitochondria can be thought of as an energy generator. Any of a variety of factors which cause alterations or disruptions in the workings of the mitochondria may contribute to symptoms often characterized by symptoms of increased fatigue (especially following physical activity), sleep disturbances, morning stiffness and widespread deep muscle pain. Some scientists have suggested a relationship between the dysfunction of the mitochondria and these symptoms. It is estimated that between three and six million people in the United States are affected by fibromyalgia, with the majority of cases reported in women between 25 and 45 years of age.
Piecing Together Balanced, Free Radical Protection
Fortunately, free radical formation is controlled by a complex network of beneficial compounds known as antioxidants. Antioxidants are capable of stabilizing, or deactivating, free radicals before they attack cells. But providing proper antioxidant protection is a challenge similar to putting a puzzle together. All the necessary pieces must be available and properly combined to create comprehensive, balanced protection. To help you benefit from the antioxidant pieces needed to protect your cells, we suggest that you eat a well-balanced diet rich in fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and whole grains, and reinforce that diet with balanced, comprehensive, high quality antioxidant supplements. Fill out the Oxidative Stress Questionnaire provided below. It could help determine whether you may be in need of extra protection.
Let Us Help You Maintain Your Antioxidant Balance
You can’t always eat right, get the right amount of exercise and avoid all the toxins and pollutants you’re exposed to every day. But you can make a positive contribution to the cellular war against oxidative free radical damage by improving the balance between free radicals and antioxidants. We suggest that you increase your intake of vital antioxidant nutrients from fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. We can also develop a therapeutic strategy to help reinforce your first line of defense with a comprehensive nutritional program designed to maintain your antioxidant balance and help protect the health of your cells.
Ask us about your oxidative stress risk and the results of the questionnaire on this web page.
Oxidative Stress Questionnaire
POINT SCALE Answer each of the following questions relative to your symptoms or history over the past month. Once you’ve completed the questionnaire, ask us about your results.
0 = None or Never
1 = Slightly or Rarely
2 = Mild or Occasionally
3 = Moderately or Frequently
4 = Severe or Often
- Do you have symptoms that are aggravated by air pollution?
- Are you sensitive to smoke, perfume or other chemical odors?
- Do you have ongoing problems with fatigue?
- Do you suffer from joint or deep muscle pain?
- Do you have a significant environmental exposure to pollutants (at work or at home)?
- Rate your use of tobacco products.
- Rate your exposure to second-hand smoke.
- Rate your consumption of alcoholic beverages.
- Rate your unprotected exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet light.
- Rate your level of exercise.
- What is your exposure to prescription, over-the-counter medications, and or recreational drugs?
- Rate your daily stress level.
- Rate your intake of fried foods, margarine or high-fat foods.
- How often do you seek medical care or advice for your health concerns?
Add up the numbers to arrive at a total.
Are you currently taking antioxidant supplements?
References 1. Langseth, L. From the Editor: Antioxidants and Diseases of the Brain. Antioxidant Vitamins Newsletter 1993;4:3. 2. Halliwell, B., Free Radicals, Antioxidants, and Human Disease: Curiosity, Cause, or Consequence? Lancet 1994;344:721-724. 3. Hennekens, C.H. and Gaziano, J.M., Antioxidants and Heart Disease: Epidemiology and Clinical Evidence. Clin Cardiol 1993;16(suppl I):I-10, I-15). 4. Hennekens, C.H., Antioxidant Vitamins and Cancer. Am J Med 1994;97(SA)2S-4S; discussion 22S-28S. 5. Fontham, E.T., Vitamin C, Vitamin C-Rich Foods, and Cancer: Epidemiologic Studies. ch 6, p 157-197. 6. Trounce, I. et al., Decline in Skeletal Muscle Mitochondrial Respiratory Chain Function: Possible Factor in Aging. Lancet. 1989;I(8639):637-638. 7. Shigenaga, M.K. and Ames, B.N., Oxidants and Mitochondrial Decay in Aging. Ch 3, p 63-106. in Natural Antioxidants in Human Health and Disease. ed. Frei, B. Academic Press: San Diego, 1994. 8. Eisinger, J. et al., Glycolysis abnormalities in Fibromyalgia. J Am Col Nutr. 1994; 13(2):144-148.