What are Free Radicals and Antioxidants?

Free Radicals - How Radical Can They Be?

It's all over the news, health magazines, and your doctor's office. Free radicals are something to be feared - but what exactly are they?

Well, if it's broken down scientifically, a free radical is an atom that has a free electron that isn't paired. This free electron allows it to interact with other healthy, purposeful cells and damage them. The free radical is looking for a cell that can help it become more stable by giving or receiving an electron- but the healthy cell will then become unstable if paired with the free radical.

This creates a domino effect - the now paired, once healthy cell is now unstable and will go on to produce other unstable cells.


Free radicals are a product of oxidation, the process where the free radical was created - the atom made with the free electron.

Antioxidants - The Rally Against Radicals

Antioxidants are just that: anti-oxidants. Antioxidants inhibit the oxidation process. The idea is that substances containing antioxidants can bond with the free radicals in the body and prevent the oxidation process, prevent the free radical from bonding with and harming normal cells, and prevent the rapid reproduction of harmful cells.

The jury is out, though. Take it all with a grain of salt. (You know, like when eggs were bad for you, then good for you . . .) Studies are not fully conclusive that consuming antioxidants will stave off cancer or disease. Do your own research, come to your own conclusions and proceed from there.

Breaking It All Down

OK, so that's a bunch of science hooey, right? Let's try it this way.

I'm a cell in the human body. I need 3 things to function - neutrons, protons and electrons. I had a healthy balance of all 3 until some inhaled tobacco smoke came along and knocked things out of whack. So, I split to make more healthy cells, but because of the damage I don't split evenly. Now I need to attach to a cell that is healthy to make me healthy. However, that makes me like a parasite - if I'm better after the attachment, the next cell won't be. And the effect cascades from there.

Antioxidant Substances

  • Vitamin C
    • Found in citrus, strawberries, spinach, broccoli

  • Vitamin E
    • Found in nuts, green leafy vegetables

  • Vitamin A
    • Found in carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes

Antioxidant Therapy in the Kitchen

Most people find that making their morning blueberry smoothies or drinking green tea are easy ways to get their daily dose of antioxidants.

Some of the most widely acclaimed antioxidant-rich foods include:

  • blueberries
  • red beans
  • cranberries
  • walnuts
  • spinach
  • blackberry
  • raspberry
  • citrus fruits
  • tropical fruits
  • salmon
  • tuna
  • broccoli
  • carrots
  • sweet potatoes
  • pecans
  • strawberries
  • artichoke

Blueberry Coconut Smoothie Video Recipe

Pomegranate Passion with Ann Kleinberg

Green Tea Properties

Green AND black tea contain antioxidants. Those of you who enjoy a nice cup of Earl Grey Tea don't have to switch. Even oolong tea contains antioxidant power. According to WedMD, all of these tea types are made form the same leaves - it's how they are processed that makes them different. Tea is rich in polyphenols, a botanical antioxidant derived from plants and also found in fruits or vegetables.

Many green teas are combined with fruit powders to increase antioxidant content.  Be sure to follow brewing instructions for best potency.
Many green teas are combined with fruit powders to increase antioxidant content. Be sure to follow brewing instructions for best potency.

Go Nuts!

Nuts are a great source of Vitamin E and the skins contain flavonoids, yet another source of antioxidants. Almonds have been found to be particularly high in these substances. Almonds and other nuts are also thought to assist in heart health, weight control, and cholesterol levels.

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Comments 11 comments

belief713 profile image

belief713 8 years ago from NJ

great info

helenathegreat profile image

helenathegreat 8 years ago from Manhattan

Great answer to my request.. very thorough. Thanks so much for the awesome hub!

Kat07 profile image

Kat07 8 years ago from Tampa Author

Thanks - I hope it made sense!

The Phantom Blot profile image

The Phantom Blot 8 years ago

Thanks for the info, if you had asked me "Are free radicals good for you?" I probably would have said yes. Dumb dork at your service.

Kat07 profile image

Kat07 8 years ago from Tampa Author

Phantom Blot - you are right, when they say to BEST things in life are FREE, they didn't mean the radicals! (LOVE the squirrel)

pikapp44 8 years ago

Very interesting. Anything good for Diabetes?

hawaiifiveO profile image

hawaiifiveO 8 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

Awesome info. One of the best hubs I've read so far on this subject!

Kat07 profile image

Kat07 8 years ago from Tampa Author

Wow, what a compliment! Thanks, hawaiifiveO! : )

anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago

Thanks for explaining free radicals and antioxidant in such a way that's easily understood. I can relate to your examples and that's a good thing.

Paula Schmelter 5 years ago

your have lots of great information. But there is another way....

The newest and best solution to free radical damage is called Protandim. This natural product has scientific backing that is unbelievable. By restarting the enzymes in your own body that fight free radicals you can reduce your cellular aging by 40%-70% in 30 days. Your own enzymes are millions of times more powerful than any direct antioxidant. You owe it to yourself to look into Protandim.

proton66 profile image

proton66 5 years ago from Southern California

Free radicals should not be ignored and we all need something more effective and I'm glad you mentioned Protandim, Paula.

Of course, there are lots of food/fruits that have anti-oxidant properties, and we need them for certain purposes. And for most of us from the non-scientific community, we only react to what the scientists say or advocate; if it's good we run to it. If not, we run away from it.

Protandim, as a nrf2 activator, is better. Like Dr McCord said, the body does not rely on antioxidants from vitamins to maintain proper balance; it relies on antioxidant enzymes.

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