Why should you care about free radicals?

Because too many of them are believed to be the leading cause of cancer. My uncle died at 42 of colon cancer and left behind two young children. It goes without saying that it was very traumatic for all of us. This early death was a wake-up call and made me realize the importance of early detection. It also made the subject of cancer prevention very close to my heart.

Although the origin of cancer is unknown, scientists believe that it may be due to the accumulation of free radicals, combined with defective repair of cells. Genetics only play in about 15% in this equation. In short, if you want to live forever — and stay cancer-free– limit the accumulation of free radicals.

What are these Free Radicals and how do we accumulate them?

Well, my grade 11 chemistry teacher would probably do a better job of explaining this than me, but here goes:

The atom is a fundamental piece of matter. Each atom has rings of electrons around them, like the rings around the planet Saturn, for example. Electrons are paired up and flying in many different rings around the atom. If one electron leaves the atom, that will leave the other electron unpaired. The unpaired electron has a strong tendency to try to be paired again and will steal electrons from other atoms. This aggressive behavior creates havoc on our bodies by removing electrons from important biological molecules. DNA is the most important molecule. Attacking our DNA creates mistakes or mutations. These in turn will lead to many diseases including cancer.

We produce free radicals all the time. They are produced by the body’s immune system cells during metabolism (digestion and conversion of food into energy) to detoxify bacteria and viruses. On top of the free radicals produced, we can accumulate free radicals through the environment like from radiation, herbicides, pollution and cigarette smoke.

The body can handle a natural amount of free radicals. But the more free radicals that exist, the harder it is for the anti-oxidants to do their job. Anti-oxidants are like security guards: they prevent the free radicals from stealing those electrons. Damage starts occurring when production becomes too much and if anti-oxidants are not available in the body.

I know in my case, understanding how free-radicals work and antioxidants benefit helped me to feel more empowered with my own health and make sure that I don’t follow in my uncle’s footsteps.
In our next post, we’ll look at the most identified causes of free-radical overproduction.