Straight from Miriam Webster: an especially reactive atom or group of atoms that has one or more unpaired electrons; especially : one that is produced in the body by natural biological processes or introduced from an outside source (such as tobacco smoke, toxins, or pollutants) and that can damage cells, proteins, and DNA by altering their chemical structure.
But the important words are ESPECIALLY REACTIVE. Free radicals are desperately seeking out an electron pair – and the WILL get it one way or another. So how do we handle free radicals in our body, and where do they come from?
Free radicals are the main reason behind the recommendations for increasing foods rich in antioxidants such as blackberries, blueberries, goji, etc. in your daily diet. These foods essentially pick up high numbers of free radicals from your body when being digested, but that’s not the only way!
To quote Dr. Carol Davis (Professor Emerita – University of Miami Miller School of Medicine): “Over time, free radicals build up in our bodies. In order for them to become stable, the radicals must find an electron to “connect” themselves to. Where are these electrons then? Beyond the sources found in certain foods, vitamins, etc, we have an abundant source of electrons right beneath us in the earth. If we fail to connect ourselves with these sources, free radicals attack our healthy tissue to rob the cells of their electrons. The result? A high potential for infection and inflammation, among other ailments.”
From a scientific perspective, the idea is that the earth has a mild negative charge to it. Over time, especially in modern life, our bodies build up a positive charge. Direct contact with the earth can even out this positive charge and return the body to a neutral state.
Many people don’t have this contact with the earth anymore, and some experts wonder if this is a contributor to the many rising health problems we face today. As a population, we wear rubber shoes and live indoors. In theory, many of us could go years without directly touching the earth at all, or even being in direct sunlight!
Vitamin E and Vitamin C are great antioxidant sources, and can be found in high quantities in foods like nuts, seeds, fish oils (vitamin E), citrus, kale, strawberries, green peppers, etc (vitamin C).
Antioxidants are the polar opposite of free radicals and are especially adept at neutralizing these otherwise harmful byproducts.
Where do they come from?
While not much is known for sure about free radicals’ effects on the body, scientists have theorized that they may contribute to everything from wrinkles/aging signs to atherosclerosis to Alzheimer’s Disease!
While free radicals do occur due to natural body processes, high levels of free radicals are generally associated with people living in highly polluted areas, people who eat fried foods and/or trans fats, people who smoke cigarettes, or people exposed to pesticides.
Interesting Fact: “Weekend Warriors” (as opposed to people who exercise consistently) generate far more free radicals during endurance exercise. Consider a more consistent approach to conditioning which allows your body to manage the stress and not become overwhelmed by the unusual strain.