Free radicals are atomic or molecular species with unpaired electrons in the outermost orbital and are unstable and very reactive. Free radicals need one more electron to become stable and try to take an electron from the other atom. This atom in turn now becomes a free radical and the dangerous chain reaction starts. Free radicals can damage our cells, particularly DNA and can do harm to our health. The well known oxygen free radicals or reactive oxygen species are superoxide ion, hydroxyl radical, singlet oxygen and hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is not a free radical but it is involved in the formation of many reactive oxygen species.

What are the sources of oxygen free radicals? The body uses oxygen to convert sugar and fat into energy. In this process oxygen is converted to water. However, about 2% of the oxygen may escape before the conversion is complete. These become the different oxygen free radicals. There are many other enzymatic and non-enzymatic reactions in the cells which also produce continuously free radicals.

The external sources of free radical production include cigarette smoke, radiation, environmental pollutants, ultraviolet light, chemicals including pesticides and drugs and ozone. Excess exercises or physical activities can also produce more free radicals.

Free radicals are responsible for aging. Cancer and cardiovascular problems are the very important diseases caused by free radicals. The damage of DNA in the cells and the oxidation of the LDL-cholesterol are the main reason for these diseases. Cataracts, maculopathy, the age-related disorder of the retina, auto immune diseases like arthritis or fibromyalgia, neurodegenerative diseases, aging and many other diseases go to the account of free radicals.

Does the body need oxygen free radicals? Phagocytes produce excess free radicals to destroy invading pathogenic micro-organisms and this is part of the body’s defense mechanism against many diseases. Complete elimination of free radicals is not possible, but it is possible to control the production of free radicals. This is also very important for anti aging.

The body needs mechanisms to control the amount of oxygen free radicals and the excess must be scavenged continuously. If the free radical production is high and there are not enough antioxidants to neutralize them the condition, oxidative stress is developed and this is bad for the health. The two possibilities to control free radicals are antioxidants to limit oxidation and the enzymes which can neutralize the free radicals. The important body’s own antioxidants include ubiquinol, glutathione, uric acid bilirubin and even cholesterol.

The enzymes include glutathione peroxidase, superoxide dismutases and catalase. These enzymes need copper, manganese, selenium and zinc and these must be taken from the food.

There are more than 4000 identified nutritive and non-nutritive antioxidants present in fruits and vegetables. The important antioxidants from the foods include vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, natural beta-carotene, lycopene and many others including the polyphenols. This is an important reason to take several servings of fruits and vegetables in a day.

We all can do a lot for anti aging and start from today to think and do something for this. It is easy and worth doing.