FREE RADICALS AND ANTIOXIDANTS: MORE THAN A CASE OF BAD GUYS AND GOOD GUYS
THEIR ROLE IN THE PREVENTION, MANAGEMENT AND TREATMENT OF DISEASE
by Andreas M. Papas M.Sc., Ph.D. President YASOO Health Inc.
Adjunct Professor, James Quillen College of Medicine, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN
Senior Scientific Advisor, The Cancer Prevention Institute, Harvard University
Most of us view free radicals and antioxidants as a classic case of bad guys the free radicals, and good guys the antioxidants. While this understanding may be rather simplistic, significant research indicates that management of the production of free radicals and effective use of antioxidants can provide useful tools for the prevention, management and treatment of disease.
FREE RADICALS—THE BAD GUYS?
Atoms consist of the positively charged nucleus and negatively charged electrons. Electrons orbit around the nucleus in pairs. When an electron from a pair is removed the molecule becomes very unstable. A free radical is any chemical species, capable of independent existence with one or more unpaired electrons. Free radicals with major biological significance include superoxide, hydroxyl, lipid, nitric oxide, thiyl and protein radicals. Scientists group with free radicals non-radical compounds that are strong oxidants or can be converted easily to free radicals. Some examples include hydrogen peroxide, singlet oxygen and ozone.
Free radicals are extremely reactive. The half-life of one of the most damaging free radicals, the hydroxyl radical, is one billionth of a second. This means that it will attack the first molecule in its path fat, protein, DNA, sugar and ‘steal’ electrons. This process, called oxidation, is the same process that causes our cars to rust and slices of apple to turn brown and may have major impact on aging and health and disease.
Free radicals are part of life
Free radicals are produced in every tissue of our body. Three major sources of free radicals are:
The mitochondria. We use oxygen to oxidize glucose in the mitochondria to produce energy as ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Even under normal conditions, electrons deviate from their normal path and combine with oxygen or other molecules to form free radicals. Excess production of free radicals ruptures the membrane of the mitochondria and opens the floodgates of free radicals.