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What You Should Know About Free Radicals

Updated on November 18, 2011

What Are Free Radicals?

We hear about free radicals all the time. Regardless, most people still do not know much about them or the harm they cause. So what are they anyway? Why are they bad and should we be worried about free radicals in our bodies?

Free radicals are atoms that have unpaired electrons. The unpaired electrons cause the atoms to become unstable and highly reactive. In order to stabilize, they need to latch on to healthy electrons in our bodies. Our bodies are constantly at war with free radicals. This is actually normal and it helps the metabolic process of the body. In this sense, free radicals are actually important.

Problems occur when too many free radicals are being produced and our body can't fight them all off. All it takes is for one free radical to bond with a healthy electron. Once it attaches, it will damage the cell. This will also create a snowball effect as more free radicals begin attaching to healthy electrons in order to balance themselves. When this happens, it causes oxidation to occur (similar to rusting). Yes, in a sense, our bodies will begin to rust.

If you want to see an example of free radical damage, get an apple out of your kitchen and cut it in half. After a short while the inside of the apple will begin to brown. The browning of the apple is actually cell damage occuring. There you have it, free radicals at work.


How Free Radicals Hurt You

Excessive free radicals are caused by pollution, herbicides, cigarette smoke, radiation and many other toxins in the air we breathe. Other causes are things like stress, alcohol, ultraviolet rays and food additives.

Many health issues can occur from free radical damage including the following:

  • Premature aging
  • Arthritis
  • Allergies
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Tumors
  • Cancer


The Key to Fighting Free Radicals: Antioxidants

Antioxidants are a natural enemy to free radicals. Antioxidants are molecules that can stop the chain reaction before free radicals cause serious damage. Antioxidants are found in Vitamin E, C and Beta Carotene. Adding antioxidant rich foods to your diet everyday will help rid the body of free radicals and keep your body healthy. Opt for whole foods instead of processed foods enriched with vitamins whenever possible.

There are many foods that contain vitamin E. Some of the richest foods in this essential vitamin are mustard greens, chard, sunflower seeds, almonds, turnip greens, bell peppers, spinach, olive oil, broccoli, wheat and tropical fruits (papaya, mangoes and kiwi).

Foods that are high in vitamin C include oranges, tropical fruit, strawberries, peaches, lemons, limes, parsley, broccoli, bell pepper, kale, mustard greens, tomatoes, potatoes and brussel sprouts.

Beta Carotene is another important antioxidant. Foods that you should include in your diet in order to get the most of this antioxidant are carrots, kale, spinach, sweet potato, winter squash, romaine lettuce, thyme, cilantro, cantaloupe and collard greens.


There have been some studies that show that physical activity can increase free radicals in your body. This shouldn't discourage you from going to the gym. Working out also increases the function of antioxidants. Fitness and daily exercise are still good things.

Since fruits and veggies have high amounts of antioxidants, make sure you are eating the recommended servings each day. Keep in mind that a serving size is about the size of your fist.

Adding antioxidant rich foods to your diet will keep free radicals from wrecking havoc on your body, keep you looking young and your body disease free.


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    • amymarie_5 profile image

      amymarie_5 6 years ago from Chicago IL

      Baygirl & Pstraubie,

      Glad you stopped by and commented. I also need reminding. It's hard to be helthy sometimes but when I write these kinds of hubs it tends to keep me on track.

      Hi conradofontanilla- Thank you for all the additional information. Is's much appreciated!

    • baygirl33 profile image

      victoria 6 years ago from Hamilton On.

      Thanks for sharing,and the great pics!

      We know the stuff we're supposed to eat but often need reminding.

    • conradofontanilla profile image

      conradofontanilla 6 years ago from Philippines


      I agree. We have built-it enzyme antioxidants like superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase and catalase. We produce free radicals. The metabolism of glucose produces by-products like carbon dioxide, water and free radicals -- superoxide. Superoxide produces hydrogen peroxide which is a reactive oxygen species which acts like a free radical. Hydrogen peroxide is dismantled by glutathione peroxide into safe water. What is needed is a proper balance between antioxidants and free radicals in the body. Built-in antioxidants should be supplemented.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 6 years ago from sunny Florida

      Thanks for sharing this...I need to be reminded of the healthy and tasty foods I need to consume on a more regular basis.