Free Radicals and the Oxidation Process

Rusting nails? Apple turning brown? Bananas rotting? Copper turning green? Paint peeling? … These are examples of oxidation.

Our body, or rather cells, goes through the same oxidation process.


What is the cause of this oxidation process? The infamous culprit is known as “Free Radical”.


Atomic Structure

What are Free Radicals?

Let’s take a little step back to understand how free radicals are formed.


If we look at the cells down to the smallest denomination, it is made up of atoms. Each of these atoms (or, when 2 or more atoms are combined they becomes molecules ... some of you already know that!) has electrons circulating around them.


Free radicals are atoms/molecules/ions, which are short of an electron, making them highly chemically charged and unstable.

In order to stabilize themselves, they will attempt to steal an electron from somewhere or something, in the body - usually from another cell or, surrounding cells such as blood and tissue lipids.

Their Act of Stealing Leads to Damages

Free radicals cause damages to:

1)    our cells

Side Note : Cytoplasm = liquid within the cells

  • when they steal electron from the cell’s membrane

                >   Causes membrane to rupture, leading to fluid leakage from cells  (leads to aging)

  •  when they steal electron from the cell’s nucleus

                 >   Causing damage to the DNA, leading to mutation of the cells, and causing diseases such as cancer.

  • when they steal electron from the cell’s mitochondria (energy making factories within the cells)

                >   Causes interruptions to the energy combustion process.  This prevents full production of energy and hence, our body will feel tired.

  • when they steal electron from the lysosome’s cell membrane, causing the enzymes within to be unleashed. (Lysosome are little digestive factories within the cells that has enzymes within them, to do the digestive work). The lysosome membrane is what keeps the enzymes contained within. Once unleashed, these enzymes eat up anything in their path.

                >  the unleashed enzymes cause cells casualty when it comes into contact with the surrounding cells

                >  and to make matters worse, creates even more free radicals as it goes on its destruction path


2)   our blood and tissue lipids

  • when they steal electron from the surrounding blood  and tissue lipids

                >   Causes them to mutate and form substance dangerous to our health

                     §  For example, fat lipids damaged by free radicals becomes the plague that blocks the arteries that can cause stroke


Damaged Cells Leads to Diseases and Aging

 We are made up of our cells. Once our cells are damaged, that translates into diseases in our bodies:

  • Mainly, causing degenerative diseases (such as aging, cancer, arthritis, diabetes, and so on ...)
  • And where the immune system is affected, we lose our defense to infectious diseases.

More on the Damage Caused by Free Radicals

How does a grape become a raisin?

When the cell membrane leaks, liquid escapes from the cells and thus, the cell dehydrates and shrinks.

Now, imagine a group of cells on the face doing this collectively, over time. Yup, the wrinkles appear! Wrinkle is a form of degeneration.

Next, imagine all these damages caused by the free radicals on cells on different parts of the body. Yup, degeneration occurs all over the body!


  • Cell membranes breaks

                >   liquid leaks out and cells loose the protective barrier.

  • Lysosome’s membrane breaks

                >  the enzymes within are suppose to eat away bad stuff within the cells. However, they escape into the surrounding and start eating surrounding cells. As far as these lysosomes are concerned, the surrounding cells are “alien” to them. Hey, they have lived their lives in the cells and programed to eat up anything that looks "alien" to them.

  • Cell DNA are damaged

                >  they loose their “program” – they don’t regenerate as they are suppose to and they don’t die when they are suppose to. This, in turn, can cause them to become cancerous cells and/or encourage cancerous cells to propagate.

  • Cell’s mitochondria is not able to produce the energy

                >  body becomes sluggish over time.

  • Surrounding Blood and Lipids which have their electrons stolen by free radicals, changes forms.

                >  They become over time, the plague that narrows our arteries and/or cause blockages. This in turn can lead to stroke.


In short, the cells are either damaged or mutated, which in turn transform into the diseases the body experience:

1)   through degeneration, causing the degenerative diseases

2)   through the weakening of the immune system and hence, reduces the body’s ability to fight off attacks (from bacteria, viruses, etc)

Where do these Free Radical comes from? 

  • From the Environment, such as:

                o   Smoking

                o   Taking drugs or over medicate

                o   Living in a polluted environment

                o   Consuming foods that are toxic to the body – such as unnatural food additives, hormones and steroids fed to animals

               o   Drinking contaminated water (chlorinated and fluoridated water?)

               o   Radiation exposure (sunlight and Wi-Fi everywhere?)

               o   Not consuming enough nutrients leading to stress on the body

  • Or, Emotional Factors, such as:

                o   Stress 

                o   Anxiety

                o  Worry

  • And, Biological Functions, such as:

                o   biological oxidation = when cells creates energy for us to function.

                     §  The by-products of this energy creation process are free radicals and what is known as Reactive Oxidation Specie (ROS)

                       >  ROS is simply Oxygen, short of an electron

                       >  ROS is the main free radical in our body.

                       >  An idea of how much ROS is created – in a normally healthy body, we breathe in 55 liters of Oxygen, of this we create 11 liters of ROS (about 1/5).

              o   Inflammation in the body creates free radicals

              o   Even the process of countering oxidative stress produces more oxidative stress, but usually creates a lesser potent toxin, which needless to say, needs to be gotten rid of.

               o   Over exercising creates free radical


However, a healthy body in a healthy environment, our body can get rid of the free radicals not needed.


Once the levels of free radicals is beyond a body’s ability to control or to expel efficiently, that’s when diseases set it.

All about Balance and Control

The paradox about free radicals is that while most cause damages and destruction to our cells (and hence, our bodies), we, in fact, need some free radicals for our very survival.


The irony is that while free radicals are getting a bad name, they have always been in our body. And in fact, they are needed for some bodily functions:

  • control blood flow
  • fights infection (surprised? … because they are poison and they can be used to fight the bacteria causing infections)


So, while on one hand they may cause our body to degenerate, we rely on them to maintain our health.

How do we solve this "need them" but "shouldn't have too much of them" issue?


The solution is all about balance. We only need a certain amount of free radicals, beyond which we need to expel them from our body - we need to control the amount of Free Radicals in our body.


In theory, if we live in a Shangri-La like world where food and environment are pure goodness and we do not have the stress we have in modern world, the (organic) food we eat alone will likely have enough antioxidants to be able help us achieve that balance for health.


However, unless (and until) we find that Shangri-La, we will have to help the body achieve that balance and control.

> Return to the Top - Free Radicals and Oxidation

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