The symptoms associated with getting older, including having less energy, muscle and joint pains and delayed cognitive function have been related to free radical damage, but what exactly is free radical damage?
Free radicals are known as the natural side effects that are accompanied by many biological functions including the metabolism. Our immune system sends free radicals through white blood cells to fight against viruses and bacteria.
When our bodies are exposed to high amounts of oxidative stress, these free radicals can build up and harm healthy cells in the body. And when these electrons attach to other cells, it can cause damage.
Contrary to popular belief, all free radicals aren’t all bad for you — in fact, some may even be beneficial for you. It’s the oxidative stress you will have to worry about. By knowing the sources of oxidative stress and how it is correlated to free radical damage can help in finding an effective way of reversing the free radical damage.
What Is Free Radical Damage?
Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms with an odd or unpaired number of electrons that can be formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. Once formed these highly reactive radicals can start a chain reaction.
Yes, free radicals have the potential to be very harmful, but their production within the body isn’t completely bad either. Despite them contributing to the aging process, free radicals are also vital contributors to the immune system.
Our bodies produce free radicals as byproducts of cellular reactions, metabolism of foods, breathing and other important functions within the body. It also plays a role in the detoxification process while white blood cells send free radicals to destroy bacteria, viruses and damaged cells.
How Can Free Radicals Harm the Body?
Free radicals can potentially harm and age the body over a period of time because they damage DNA, enzymes, cellular membranes and lipids or fats stored within blood vessels.
Since free radicals are an unpaired electron, they are known as “cellular muggers” because they rob nearby cells and compounds of one of their electrons. This process makes the robbed cell or compound unable to function normally and even converts cells into electron-seeking muggers themselves, leading to a chain reaction in the body that destroys healthy cells and tissue while accumulating even more free radicals.
There is a balance to everything in life, even with free radicals. Free radicals live in balance with antioxidants that are known as the “cellular sacrifices” because if they are consumed in the process, they counteract the free radicals by donating an electron to them, which neutralizes them. When these two are out of balance, it will result in oxidative stress.
What Is Oxidative Stress?
Oxidative stress is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants. The damage that occurs with free radical damage is known as oxidation, which is the same process that rusts metal and browns an apple.
Free radicals react with compounds in the body and oxidize them, leading to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is known to cause the development of the most common chronic diseases and disorders killing adults today, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Environmental stressors that can cause free radical damage and lead to oxidative stress are:
- Excessive emotional and physical stress
- Certain use of medications and antibiotics
- Exposure to radiation
- Too much exercise
- Cigarettes, drugs and alcohol
- Consuming too many processed foods with additives and high amounts of sugar and artificial ingredients
- Pollution in the air, water and food
Since antioxidants can help neutralize free radical damage, adding more of them into your diet can help reverse the effects caused by oxidative stress.
Simple Tips to Reverse Free Radical Damage and Reduce Oxidative Stress
There are things you can do in addition to limiting exposure to oxidative stress. Here are simple tips you can use to actively fight against free radical damage and preserve your health while prolonging the aging process.
1. Eating more foods high in antioxidants
Antioxidants stabilize free radicals without compromising cellular health. Antioxidants clean up free radical waste, so make sure you add the following foods to your diet to help reduce free radical damage:
- Berries and grapes
- Cruciferous vegetables broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts
- Fermented foods and liquid such as miso, kimchi and kombucha
- Dark, leafy green vegetables
- Fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids such as cantaloupe, squash, carrots and sweet potatoes
- Green and white tea
2. Avoiding processed foods and foods high in sugar
Processed foods contain ingredients such as oxidized fats that introduce free radicals into the body. Refined sugars fuel the process of oxidation in the body, accelerating the aging process. So try to limit yourself on these kinds of foods and replace them with foods rich in antioxidants like the foods listed above.
3. Relieving stress
Many people don’t realize it, but stress can contribute to a myriad of health issues, including free radical damage. Try as much as you can to reduce your stress levels. Essential oils, yoga, meditation and even seeking professional help have been proven successful at relieving stress. In conjunction with fostering healthy eating habits and taking control of how you cope with stress, you will help reduce free radical damage and ultimately improve your overall way of living.