Free radicals may just be tiny atoms that only exist for a fraction of a second, but they can damage your DNA and have a significant impact on your health and appearance. Though they can occur naturally in the body, there are environmental and lifestyle factors that foster their development. Keep reading to learn more about what free radicals are, what causes them, the effects they can have on the body, and some ways that you can counteract their damage.
What Are Free Radicals?
To understand what free radicals are, you need to be familiar with the anatomy of an atom. Electrons create layers, called shells, that surround and orbit atoms. There is a set number of electrons that need to fill each shell, and once a shell reaches its capacity, the electrons start filling the next shell. When an atom's outer shell is missing electrons, it could try to bond with another atom so that it can use its electrons to fill the outer shell and stabilize itself.
When an atom has a full outer shell, it's stable. Those without a full outer shell are unstable because they react very quickly with other substances as they try to make up for their missing electrons in the outer shell. These unstable atoms are referred to as free radicals.
In the body, you often witness free radicals in the form of oxygen molecules that split into separate atoms, causing them to have unpaired electrons. These now free radicals search for other molecules or atoms to bond to. When this happens continuously, it sparks a process known as oxidative stress that damages the cells in the body and can result in a variety of aging symptoms, like wrinkles, as well as diseases.
Where Do Free Radicals Come From?
The body naturally produces free radicals, but certain lifestyle choices can actually encourage and accelerate their production. Some examples of these lifestyle factors include:
- Eating fried foods.
- Consuming alcohol.
- Smoking tobacco products.
- Being exposed to toxic chemicals, like air pollution or pesticides.
These factors have shown a correlation to certain diseases, like cardiovascular disease and cancer. This has caused many people to speculate that oxidative stress might be a primary reason that exposure to these substances often results in disease.
The Effect Free Radicals Have on the Body
The free radical theory of aging, which was first proposed by Denham Harman, M.D., Ph.D. in 1956, suggests that free radicals deteriorate other cells over time. As you get older, your body starts to lose its ability to combat the impacts of free radicals, resulting in even more free radicals, higher chances of oxidative stress, and increased damage to cells. All of these factors lead to both normal aging and degenerative processes.
Since the original theory all those years ago, there have been many other studies and theories that have been able to show a connection between free radicals, the oxidative stress they cause, and things like:
- Genetic degenerative diseases, like Parkinson's or Huntington's disease.
- Visible age-related changes, like hair loss, altered hair texture, graying hair, wrinkles, and a lack of skin elasticity.
- Age-related vision problems, such as cataracts.
- Inflammatory and autoimmune disorders, like cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Clogged arteries resulting in cardiovascular disease.
- Central nervous system diseases, including dementia like Alzheimer's.
Strategies for Combating Damage Caused by Free Radicals
Now that you know what free radicals are, you need to learn how to counteract their effects. Here are two main methods to consider.
As the latest trend in health and nutrition, it's hard to watch television or visit the grocery store without seeing something that advertises "antioxidant-rich properties." Even with all of this publicity, people often overlook the actual function and benefits of antioxidants. Antioxidants are chemicals that can minimize or even prevent the effects of free radicals, such as oxidation. They do this by freely giving electrons to free radicals, resulting in a reduction of their reactivity. Unlike other atoms, antioxidants can donate electrons without transforming into unstable free radicals themselves.
Just like free radicals, every antioxidant has different chemical properties that cause it to behave differently and affect various areas of the body. There's a wide range of chemicals that act as antioxidants and can eliminate the effects of free radicals, such as:
- Plant estrogens called phytoestrogens.
- Vitamin E.
- Vitamin C.
Antioxidants are present in many foods. For example, fruits, specifically citrus and berries, are packed with Vitamin C, soybeans have high levels of phytoestrogens, and carrots are rich in beta-carotene. Aside from an antioxidant-rich diet, there are also antioxidant supplements that aim to increase your body's supply of these chemicals.
Increasing your body's levels of antioxidants can be helpful, but you must remain mindful of the recommended dosage for each vitamin and chemical. Overcompensating with high levels of antioxidants can have negative effects on your health.
Though free radicals can certainly expedite the aging process, there are specific effects of the oxidative process that are just a normal part of aging. When it comes to your changing appearance, there are a few ways to counteract the damage free radicals cause. Anti-aging treatments allow you to preserve your appearance as your body goes through the natural changes of getting older. Some of your options include:
- Dermal fillers.
- Laser rejuvenation.
- ThermiSmooth facial rejuvenation.
- Platelet-rich plasma regenerative anti-aging therapy, also known as PRP.
Free radicals are natural and unavoidable to a certain extent, so it's impossible to eliminate your exposure completely, no matter how hard you try. However, you can take certain steps to minimize the occurrence of free radicals and their effects in your body, such as reducing your exposure to certain lifestyle factors and implementing an antioxidant-rich diet.
At the biostation, we provide many different services and treatments that can aid you on this journey, including Glutathione IV therapy and anti-aging solutions that can help you fight the visible effects of getting older. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you combat the damage caused by free radicals.