Sunday, 23 August 2015

Free radicals and antioxidants

More and more people talking about "cancer" and "free radicals" that I started to read up on it.

I found this article: "Are Antioxidants the Key to Preventing Chronic Disease?": "Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms with an odd (unpaired) number of electrons and can be formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules through a process known as oxidation.

Let's go back to high school Chemistry class, where we learned the cool term "Redox", which basically describes the process of oxidation and reduction when fruits like apples turn brown or when metal starts to rust.

Photo: Study In "What is Oxidation? Definition, process and examples" Chemistry teacher, Ms. Elizabeth (Nikki) Wyman, explains it as such: "When an atom or compound is oxidized its properties change.

For example, when an iron object undergoes oxidation it is transformed because it has lost electrons. Unoxidized iron is a strong, structurally sound metal, while oxidized iron is a brittle reddish powder.

Most of the time, oxidation occurs in tandem with a process called reduction. Reduction is the process of gaining one or more electrons. In an oxidation-reduction or redox reaction, one atom or compound will steal electrons from another atom or compound.

Illustration: Artinaid A classic example of a redox reaction is rusting. When rusting happens, oxygen steals electrons from iron. Oxygen gets reduced while iron gets oxidized. The result is a compound called iron oxide, or rust. Unoxidized or pure iron is distinctly different from the oxidized form that occurs in rust."

Oxidation and antioxidants

"When the soft insides of fruit are exposed to oxygen in the air, they become oxidized, causing them to break down and turn brown. The process is very similar to the rusting discussed above; oxygen steals electrons from atoms and compounds. The oxidized form of these compounds is different from the un-oxidized form that is, unfortunately, unappealing to eat.

Antioxidants and free radicals

An antioxidant is a compound that reduces the oxidation of other compounds. 

In theory, consuming antioxidants will help our bodies fight off the harmful effects of oxidation, keeping our cells and enzymes happy and healthy.
In other words, eating food like blueberries and chocolate will help our insides from looking like browning fruit." Source: Study "Are Antioxidants the Key to Preventing Chronic Disease?" goes on to explain that because free radicals are missing an electron, they are deemed unstable molecules. 

Molecules strive for balance, so a free radical, missing an electron, is going to attach itself onto the nearest stable molecule (e.g. proteins/healthy tissue like flesh, muscle, skin; lipids/fats, cholesterol and DNA) it can find and steal (!!!) one of its electrons.


The problem is that this could turn the new molecule (missing an electron) into a "free" radical, which will then look for another molecule to steal an electron from, causing a chain reaction. Free radicals, in and of themselves, are not necessarily harmful. In fact, they are a vital part of our body's systems and are created naturally in the body.

Problems come, however, when there are too many free radicals in the body."

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