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What Are Free Radicals

Pragya T Jul 31, 2020
These days in many health articles you must be coming across the words 'free radicals'. Let us look at what free radicals are, where do they come from, their effects on the body, and how to avoid any negative effects by them.
The awareness about antioxidants is increasing day by day, and one can see there is a craze about antioxidant-rich fruits. Many people even tend to follow diets which contain antioxidants rich fruits, for example the popular acai detox diet. So, why am I talking about antioxidants, when I should be discussing free radicals? This is because antioxidants are very important to avoid any damage done by these radicals.

What are They?

Free radicals are simply radicals which are organic molecules. In human body the most common form of free radicals are the oxygen free radicals. So, what happens is, when an oxygen molecule becomes electrically charged or also called radicalized, it becomes unstable and tries to steal electrons from other molecules.
It can try to steal the electrons from any cellular structure in the body. This causes damage to the DNA and other molecules, if their electrons are taken away. If this continues then the damage can even cause serious illnesses like cancer. Hence, best antioxidants food sources or supplements are recommended to prevent and treat cancer.

Where do They Come From?

They are produced when the body gets exposed to harmful ultraviolet rays (from the sun), or gamma rays (from radioactive material), or X-rays. To a certain extent, we also tend to get these radicals in our body due to pollution, like cigarette smoke, car exhaust, and industrial fumes. However, even breathing in pure oxygen tends to promote them. Human body tends to undergo around 10,000 free radicals hits everyday. So, escaping them is almost impossible. But, one can take measures to protect the body from their damage.


Free radical scavengers can be either an enzyme, a vitamin, or a mineral that has the ability to destroy these harmful radicals. The unstable free radicals are present in the body and they try to take electrons from any cell. So, how does free radical scavengers i.e., antioxidants work? Antioxidants are present in various food sources and they prevent the oxidation process which is required for the electrons to pass from one cell to another.
Thus, antioxidants act as a giant boulder in the path of the damage done by these radicals. To provide your body with these free radical scavengers, eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. The body absorbs antioxidant from natural fresh foods more than that from supplements. There are various types of antioxidant like beta carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium, vitamin A, C, and E. It is said that the brighter the color of a fruit or vegetables is, the more the amount of antioxidant present in it.
The effects of free radicals in biology and medicine have shown that they contribute to oxidative damage. The effect of antioxidants on these radicals have been proved by many studies to be positive.
However, more tests and studies are required to find the effects of antioxidants on the overall human body health. Because, some recent studies show that the antioxidants have no effect on health and mortality.
As the addition of antioxidants can lead to a decrease of normal biological response to free radicals, which can lead to a more sensitive environment to oxidation. Also, some studies show that people on diet of antioxidant-rich food showed no effect on cancer treatment or prevention.