Heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's, osteoporosis and aging are just some of the many results of free radical damage in our bodies. What exactly are free radicals and how do we counteract what they do? Nope, they're not the same as the numbers we learned from our college math instructor. Nor do they refer to persons with beliefs that are different from the norm. They're actually much simpler to explain and understand. Unfortunately, without the proper lifestyle change and discipline, they are difficult to fight. And that's precisely the reason why the so-called "diseases of affluence" have doubled today compared to a decade ago despite the fact that we have surged by leaps and bounds in medical technology.

Free radicals are organic molecules that are the byproducts of your metabolism. Because they do not have the same number of electrons and are always on the lookout for an extra electron, they are highly unstable. In their search for that extra electron, they inevitably try to bond with other molecules in the body, damaging them. Oxidative stress is the technical term used to describe the process wherein the free radicals strip cells of their protective outer membranes which result to protein and enzyme damage. The DNA inside the cells also gets affected. Ultimately, the cells weaken, mutate or die causing joint, organ and tissue damage. This gets manifested in aging, cancer and other forms of diseases. An unhealthy diet rich in processed foods and preservatives, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoke, radiation and ultraviolet light exposure and toxins from the environment all contribute to the formation of free radicals in the body.

To counter the damaging effects of these radicals, our body needs antioxidants. These are molecules that prevent further free radical damage by reducing the effects of oxidative stress. By scavenging or hunting down radicals, these antioxidants prevent them from wrecking havoc inside the body. Antioxidants, then, are free-radical fighters that serve to protect our body from oxidative stress and its corresponding degenerative and ill effects. Vitamins A, C, E and beta-carotene are the most common antioxidants. Phytonutrients and flavonoids are also antioxidants which can be found in such fruits as blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, grapes, green tea, onions, chocolate, nuts and tuna. Wine, which is also derived from grapes, also has antioxidants. Minerals such as iron, zinc, manganese and selenium are also antioxidants. They can be found in the foods we eat.

To reduce free radical content in the body, we must reduce intake of processed foods and cured meats that are chockfull of preservatives. Furthermore, we must also limit intake of alcohol as well as exposure to first-hand or second-hand cigarette smoke and radiation. Those that work in factories manufacturing pesticides and fertilizers must also take all the necessary precautions to protect themselves from too much exposure to the toxins in these free-radical causing environments. Consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and seafood must be increased to increase the antioxidant content of our system so that it remains strong enough to fight off oxidative stress and enable us to remain healthy and disease-free.

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Author's Bio: 

Cooking enthusiast, natural and alternative health advocate, and proud mother of 2 lovely children.