The process of oxidation takes place in the body as part of the body’s energy-producing metabolism. It provides the vast amounts of energy required to keep us alive, and it continues as long as we live. It is a very precise, ordered process which calls for the presence of catalysts such as enzymes at various stages throughout, and it is designed to produce the maximum amount of energy for the cells without disturbing their balance and functions.
The process can generate by-products, in the form of highly reactive and potentially destructive molecules which have been called free radicals. These molecules are dangerous because they are unstable. They carry a
small electrical charge, and have a single unpaired electron, which makes them
extremely volatile and liable to react with other atoms and molecules they contact. More
free radicals are rapidly generated from these chain reactions.
Free Radicals and Ageing
Biological systems are designed in such a way that free radicals are part of their normal functioning. The body copes with oxidative stress by using its own antioxidant mechanisms based on certain enzymes, proteins, vitamins and minerals. But if free radicals get out of hand, they can overtake this natural denfence system and bring about the degeneration of body cells, which ultimately leads
to ageing and degenerative disease.
Recent developments in the biochemical study of free radical action in the body has
resulted in a more unified understanding of degenerative processes. It is now possible
for researchers to make sense of the causation of a variety of pathological conditions,
including cancer, heart disease, atherosclerosis, arthritis, dementia, Alzheimer's and other diseases of old age, and to work towards counteracting and preventing these conditions.
Free radical damage is the causative factor in ageing. Free radicals operate by attacking
molecules of protein in the body and causing them to become cross-linked.
Cross-linkage degrades the molecules of cells and tissues so that they harden and lose
This happens both internally, resulting in hardening of the arteries and
the degeneration of brain tissue, and also externally, producing wrinkling and shrivelling
of the skin.
Because proteins are the basic building matter of all the types of cells and
tissue in the body, this attack affects all protein functions, including cell building and
repair (the nucleic acids DNA and RNA which carry the genetic messages of the cells are
also affected), hormone and enzyme production, muscular and vascular tissue, and the
Causes of Increased Free Radical Production
To an extent, free radicals are a natural result of body processes. Especially in today's world, however, the production of free radicals is likely to be accelerated by many outside influences such as :
Aerosol sprays, drycleaners
Car exhaust fumes
Physical stress or trauma
Emotional stress or trauma
Excessive alcohol intake
Illness and infection
Faulty protein digestion
Spoiled or tainted foods
Rancid and heated fats
Chemicals in food
Add to this the fact that humans eat less natural foods (especially
raw foods rich in the protective elements), while more and more foods are produced
by methods that deplete these protective elements, either in the growing or in the processing.
The antioxidant enzymes are the first line of defence. But the body needs
adequate supplies of the required nutrients before these enzymes can become
Superoxide dismutase requires adequate amounts of zinc, manganese
and copper, and glutathione peroxidase requires adequate amounts of selenium
and vitamin E - which, as we know, operate synergistically. If these nutrients
are not derived from the diet in sufficient quantity, the scavenging activity
of the enzymes will be reduced.
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The above information is offered not as a prescription or in place of proper
medical care, but as a report on research findings which may be of interest.
In cases of sickness, the attention and care of a nutritionally aware health
professional are essential.