Free Radicals and Antioxidants

The terms “free radicals” and “antioxidants” are very commonly used, but not everyone understands exactly what they are and how they work. This post will try and help shine some light on these two terms!

What are Free Radicals?

  • There are many types of radicals, but reactive oxygen species are the most important ones involved with biological systems. As humans, we are dependent upon metabolic activities that utilize mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation, which produces ATP. In this process, reactive species are produced, which have extremely high chemical reactivity – meaning they can react very easily with their nearby environment. They are not inherently “bad”, and play very important roles in intercellular / intracellular signaling and immune function.

What can they do?

  • Radicals can damage cellular membranes through a process known as lipid peroxidation. This process results in increased membrane stiffness, decreased activity of membrane-bound enzymes, and altered permeability.
  • Excess radical damage has been associated with atherosclerosis, cancer, inflammatory joint disease, diabetes, and many more.

Why are antioxidants good?

  • Normally, antioxidants are present to help minimize radical damage. An imbalance between these reactive oxygen species and antioxidant defense is when problems start to arise, as excess oxidative stress is common in many chronic diseases (listed above).
  • Antioxidants help to prevent or fix the effects of these radicals. They can do so through numerous mechanisms, such as providing sites for the radicals to attach to or by converting the radical into another less-harmful molecule.
  • It’s believed that under normal circumstances, the body’s antioxidant system alone is not enough to neutralize all the radicals. For this reason, diet and supplementation are important.

How do I get them?

  • The 2 main ways to get more antioxidants is to eat foods with a high amount of them or to use supplementation. Below are some of the most popular ones for each:
    • Supplements: Vitamins A, C, E, Folic Acid
    • Foods: Goji berries, Dark chocolate, Berries, Prunes, Beans



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Written by Dr. Brandon Buchla, DC, CSCS

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