Much is said about free radicals and how harmful they can be to our health. However, it is possible that the information that is handled in this regard is limited only to that free radicals are bad, but do we really know why this is so?
To better understand how these molecules work, it is important to dig deeper into what they are , how they act, and more. That is why below we will explain in detail everything concerning free radicals.
What are free radicals and how do they work?
Free radicals are highly unstable and reactive molecules, since they have unpaired electrons. Stable molecules generally have paired electrons, but when this is not the case, free radicals are present.
By being unpaired, these molecules try to get the electron they need. It is then when the free radical begins to unbalance the organism, since by stealing an electron from a stable molecule, it becomes unstable. That is, it becomes a free radical.
Thus, the propagation of these unstable molecules can be chaotic and occur quickly. By converting stable molecules into radicals, they in turn try to steal the electron that the first radical stole from them in the beginning, generating a chain reaction.
It should be noted that at present the name of the radicals is no longer accompanied by the adjective free. This is mainly due to the fact that there are more specific groups in which they are classified. Then, as the term “free radicals” had a much more general meaning, its adjective was put aside to only use “radicals.”
What is its nomenclature?
In chemistry, to identify free radicals, a dot is usually placed on the right side of their symbol. Thus, this point fulfills the function of identifying the odd electron that makes up the free radical. This form of identification comes from the well-known “Lewis structure”, used to calculate the number of electrons present.
How are free radicals formed?
The process of free radical formation is quite curious. This is due to the fact that they can be generated independently . Thus, they can be practically present in many of the elements and bodies that coexist on Earth, among them we can mention:
- Living beings and organisms.
- The same atmosphere and different environments.
- They can also be created in laboratories.
It should be noted that the presence of radicals in the body is not completely bad. In fact, they can fulfill some very important functions, such as protecting our body from some viruses.
However, for this element to function properly, there must be a catalyst element that creates a stable equilibrium . And it is here, where the presence of antioxidants in the body play a key role.
This is because the presence of antioxidants can create a balance in the body. This equilibrium is what makes the radicals able to become stable molecules. In addition, it also protects the body from the loss of cells, which could suffer it from free radicals, without the presence of antioxidants.
Free radicals derived from oxygen are formed in the atmosphere. This formation can be generated through various causes, although one of the main ones is usually associated with radiation.
Types of free radicals
There are different types of free radicals, which can vary according to the number of atoms or electrons and the charge that it has. Among them are the following:
Monatomic and polyatomic radicals
As their name implies, monatomic radicals are those that basically have odd numbers of electrons within an atom. Among them we can mention the following:
- The hydrogen radical.
- Chlorine radical.
- Bromine radical.
While, for their part, the so-called polyatomic radicals are characterized by having more than one atom. The most direct reference to talk about this type of radical is the methyl radical.
Likewise, radicals can also have an anionic, cationic and even neutral polarity. This depends mainly on the type of charge that these radicals may possess.
It should be noted that for free radicals the central atom that may possess its electron is of great importance . And it is according to this that they can be found from radicals that focus on carbon, as well as others that do so on nitrogen, oxygen and halogen.
In addition, these radicals can also be classified into both primary, secondary and tertiary radicals. The latter are usually the most stable types of radicals.
What consequences can they have on the body?
It is important to know that free radicals in our body can be formed through oxygen. Thus, these radicals are harmful to our health, since they can affect or alter essential parts of our body, such as:
- Cell membranes.
- DNA and other types of genetic elements.
- Cells in general.
This obviously has repercussions on our body both internally and externally. Next we will talk about some of the ones that may be more common.
This is one of the consequences reflected abroad by the damage that the cells of our body can suffer when attacked by free radicals . This is mainly due to the fact that as the cell membrane is modified by free radicals, it is unable to function optimally.
Due to the cellular modification mentioned above, it is believed that free radicals can influence the presence of different types of cancer. Thus, mainly among some of them the following:
- Mouth cancer.
- Esophagus cancer.
- Pharyngeal cancer.
Among the presence of other types of diseases caused by free radicals are those of a degenerative nature, such as:
However, it is important to add that not all free radicals harm our body . This is because there are some that use the immune system to fight different types of viruses.
What is the relationship between antioxidants and free radicals?
It can be said, in a nutshell, that antioxidants and free radicals are carried like water and oil. And it is not for less, since antioxidants are responsible for inhibiting the harmful effects on health that free radicals can cause.
This is because, as we mentioned earlier, since free radicals are unstable in their molecular composition, they seek to balance it. This task is carried out using the use of other molecules in the body, which results in the generation of other unstable and reactive molecules that end up becoming free radicals.
That is why antioxidants play a transcendental role in this fight , since their properties have the ability to neutralize or counteract the degenerative effects caused by free radical oxidants.
Enzyme defenses are, along with antioxidants, other mechanisms used by the body to seek to protect itself from the negative effects caused by free radicals. This defense mechanism is automatic and is generated by the body itself, seeking to balance the chemical processes generated by the cells.
An imbalance could trigger the famous oxidative stress
If you wonder what oxidative stress is , the answer is simple. Basically, it is an imbalance produced in the body by various factors. This imbalance is the consequence of the chaos that exists between free radicals and antioxidants.
This, obviously, is harmful to the body, and different types of pathologies and conditions can be triggered. That is why it is ideal to maintain a balance between the presence of free radicals in the body and that of antioxidants.
How to avoid or combat excess free radicals?
In order to combat or avoid excess free radicals in the body, it is first necessary to know what risk factors exist in this regard. That way, keeping this in mind, exposure of the body can be avoided.
As we highlighted earlier, free radicals are formed in the body through oxygen. Thus, there are different types of factors that can influence the fact that a greater amount of free radicals are generated in the body. We will talk about some of them below.
The foods that most expose the body to the presence of free radicals are those that contain high amounts of fat and do not provide many nutrients to the body. Among them you can mainly find fried foods.
Drugs can increase the presence of free radicals in the body
There are some legal, as well as illegal, drugs that can expose the body to large doses of free radicals. Among these, they tend to be mainly both cigarettes, as well as excessive alcohol consumption.
Unfavorable environmental factors
This is of great importance, since prolonged exposure to certain substances or factors in the environment can generate large amounts of free radicals in the body. Thus, we recommend avoiding as much as possible prolonged exposure or contact with:
- Pollution of the environment.
- Ultraviolet rays.
In addition to all the above indications, it is also recommended to avoid exposing yourself to the sun for long periods of time. Likewise, it can be positive to try to carry out activities outdoors while surrounded by an environment where there is almost no pollution.
Other recommendations to keep in mind
Taking into account all the risk factors mentioned above, it is worth following some indications in order to avoid high presence of free radicals in the body. That is why we will talk about some of them below.
Exercise and lead a healthy life
People who eat products with quite high fats, such as fried foods, are more exposed to forming large doses of free radicals.
Thus, in addition to eating a balanced diet, avoiding the consumption of substances that are harmful to the body, it is also recommended to exercise regularly. In this way, the speed of the oxidation process of our body can be reduced, which, obviously, is reflected in our physical appearance.
Eat a diet where foods with antioxidants are consumed
There are different types of foods, both synthetic and natural, that can bring antioxidants. They are essential to include them in the diet to avoid the oxidative effects that occur in the body due to the presence of free radicals. Some of these vitamins and other properties are as follows:
Thus, among some of the foods that can be consumed to be able to carry a diet with these nutrients, there are some of those that we will mention below:
- Vegetables (preferably those with green leaves).
- Cereals and nuts.
In addition, as we mentioned a little above, it is also very helpful to include food supplements in the diet, since they can reinforce the antioxidant effect. Some of these supplements include Omega 3 or Lutein.
The ideal is to maintain a balance between free radicals and antioxidants
Although free radicals in high doses can be harmful to our body, they are also necessary for it. So, in order to avoid suffering the negative consequences that these can bring with them, it is advisable to take into account all the indications that have already been exposed.
In this way , you can lead a much healthier life , where the oxidizing effect of these free radicals will not greatly affect the body.
Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.