Free radicals

Free radicals are atoms, molecules and ions with one or several unpaired electrons. Free radicals can quickly and irreversibly oxidise various structures in the body, including cell DNA. Free radicals are formed during normal biochemical processes in the body, including breathing and digestion or increased physical exertion. Usually the body can combat the amount it has produced itself.

Today there is a misbalance between free radicals and antioxidants, which is called oxidative stress. The reason for it is that massive production of free radicals is caused by alcohol, medicines, radiation (including UV and x-radiation), cigarette smoke, environmental pollution and ozone1. Excess weight, diseases, mental and emotional stress also contribute to the burden created on the body by free radicals. Dr. Artemis Simopolous explains: “The amount of free radicals in our bodies has increased significantly, while the amount of antioxidants consumed in our diets has decreased by up to six times” 2. Atherosclerosis, tumours, heart attack, cataract, aging of the retina, decreased immunity3 – all of these are typical health issues caused by oxidative stress4.

The chemical reaction created by free radicals is called oxidisation. The damage created by oxidisation can be seen on metal as it rusts. Another experiment illustrating oxidisation can be done with an apple: cut an apple in half; cover the left half with lemon juice (which contains vitamin C and polyphenols with antioxidative properties), but leave the right one as is. In just a matter of minutes the half on the right will start to turn brown, while the one that was treated with lemon juice, thanks to the natural antioxidants in lemon juice, will be just as fresh and white as if it had just been cut.

A similar oxidisation process also takes place within the body if the amount of free radicals gets out of control. The damage caused by oxidisation and the effects of free radicals can best be seen on our skin. One of the reasons for fine lines, wrinkles and dry skin, in other words, aging of the skin, is damage to cell DNA which is caused by free radicals.Astaxanthin is the most powerful antioxidant in nature and it is called a superantioxidant for good reason. By interacting with free radicals it secures them and averts damage that they could cause. Astaxanthin scavenges for free radicals in the water-loving (hydrophilic) end of the cell membrane, as well as in the fat-loving (lipophilic) end – unlike many other antioxidants, which only work either inside the membrane (vitamin E and beta-carotene) or on the outside (vitamin C).

1. OXYGEN FREE RADICAL SCAVENGING ABILITIES OF VITAMINS C, E, b-CAROTENE, PYCNOGENOL, GRAPE SEED PROANTHOCYANIDIN EXTRACT AND ASTAXANTHINS IN VITRO. Debasis Bagchi, Ph.D. Pharmacy Sciences, Creighton University School of Health Sciences, June 2001
3. Simopoulos AP. The importance of the omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio in cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases.Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2008 Jun;233(6):674-88. doi: 10.3181/0711-MR-311. Epub 2008 Apr 11.
4. Simopoulos AP. The importance of the omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio in cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases.Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2008 Jun;233(6):674-88. doi: 10.3181/0711-MR-311. Epub 2008 Apr 11.

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