Free the free radicals

Antioxidants have been the subject of much research and much praise in recent times. This is because antioxidants in food and as supplements have been shown to reduce disease risk. They do this by attaching to molecules called “free radicals” but lately there has been scientific murmuring that free radicals are not all bad and now a new study has shown that in fact we need free radicals under certain circumstances.

Free radicals are molecules that are produced through the basic processes of your body’s metabolism. They are highly reactive molecules looking for more electrons and they look for those electrons from other molecules in your body. This amounts to them reacting very easily and so causing damaging to cells in your body, and that is where antioxidants come in. Antioxidants “donate” electrons to free radicals rendering them non-reactive but is that always a good thing?

For a moment, let us consider how stress operates in your body. Stress activates your sympathetic nervous system which stimulates receptors known as beta-adrenergic receptors on the surface of heart muscle cells. Activation of these receptors leads to changes in the cell including changes to proteins that make contractions of the cell stronger and that in turn makes the heart beat with greater force.

In a new study researchers have shown that activation of the beta-adrenergic receptors also increases production of free radicals within the cells and that these free radicals also increase the force of contraction.

When antioxidants were added to the mix, a major part of the stimulation from beta-adrenergic receptors disappeared.

So in the short term, in stressful situations, free radicals are important to allow maximum contraction, and pumping, of heart muscles. In the long term though, chronic stress results in too many free radicals and that is when health problems occur and antioxidants are needed.

What this all means for you is that age old lesson of balance: your free radicals are not entirely bad, in fact in moderation they are necessary. For most people today however, given the stressful nature of life and the inadequacy of diet, antioxidants are important to keep the excessive numbers of free radicals that populate your body under control.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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