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Insider’s Guide to Free Radicals

People eating at table.

Damage from free radicals requires becoming more mindful of our diet.

Imagine a huge ballroom dance in which couples are whirling and twirling to the music.

Until a single, unpaired dancer enters the ballroom. He cuts in on another dancing couple. This leaves one of the original couples without a partner.

This new lone dancer disrupts another couple by cutting in. This odd-man-out scenario creates chaos. A chain reaction of changing partners disrupts the dance again and again.

When molecules in our body do this it’s called oxidative stress.

Free radicals are molecules with a missing electron. They seek out sources from which they can steal an electron.

After they get an electron, the donor molecule is often damaged. When this electron shuffling is widespread it can become a major health problem.

Oxidative stress from free radicals is a natural process. Our body uses it when we exercise or fight an infection. It’s a normal part of the body’s intricate system of keeping itself healthy.

Yet, when there are too many free radicals problems can result. It can contribute to a variety of modern day inflammatory diseases. Conditions such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, heart disease and high blood pressure can result. Even Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer and many neurological diseases are implicated.

The solution?

Having one more dancer enter the room can reduce this ballroom chaos. In the body, that’s what an “antioxidant” does.

Antioxidants are molecules that can donate an electron without making themselves unstable. This causes the free radical to stabilize and become less reactive.

The good news is that there are two key strategies we can use to fight free radicals.

Reduce Exposure – The old adage, “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging,” comes to mind. Look for ways to reduce the oxidative stress on your body. This can include reducing your exposure to ozone, pesticides, tobacco smoke and pollution. Reduce alcohol and sugar in all its many forms.

Increase Antioxidants – Our body relies on the foods we eat to provide antioxidants. Damage from free radicals requires becoming more mindful of our diet. Consider adding grapes, blueberries, nuts, dark green vegetables, root vegetables, beans and fish. Limit processed meats such as sausages, bacon and salami.

As with so many things in the body, we need balance. We need the right amount of free radicals, and the right amount of antioxidants to keep them in check.

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