Free Radicals and Balance

A free radical is part of an atom, or molecule, that contains an ‘unpaired’ electron; and, an unpaired electron can be the cause of many human ailments. It can dramatically alter the homeostasis, or balance, of our bodies, by attacking the structure of the cells that make up our bodily tissues.

Homeostasis is a medical term meaning balance, and was first defined by the French physiologist, Claude Bernard, in 1865. It is a completely normal medical term for a physiological process which ensures that the human bodyÒs internal systems are always kept in balance, so study

To give a few examples; systems such as our metabolism, our blood pressure and blood pH and the temperature of our bodies, all have to be maintained at a known equilibrium. This ‘balance’ has to be maintained, no matter what the outside environment happens to be. To give some other examples of our body systems that can cause us serious problems, if they do become out of balance.

Our digestive system

This breaks down the food we eat and converts it into a chemical form of fuel, which is then transported to every cell in our body, to enable each cell to perform its own particular function. Any imbalance will affect this.

Our respiratory system

This is the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide from our lungs to our blood. Primarily, when we breathe in our lungs take in oxygen and transport it into our bloodstream, in order to oxygenate our blood and remove carbon dioxide. Any imbalance will affect this.

Our Urinary system

Sometimes referred to as the urinary tract; is a collective name for our kidneys, urinary bladder and our urethra: which, between them, are responsible for producing, collecting and excreting the urine from our bodies.Any imbalance will affect this.

All of our body’s systems have to be maintained in balance with each other, and any significant deviation from their norms can cause us discomfort, sickness; and, if not treated, eventually our death.

Body Temperature

Our normal human body should always be maintained at around 37 C (98.4? F), whether the outside climate is, either, hotter or colder than this temperature norm. For example, if the outside temperature is only 10 ? F, then our internal body temperature should still be at, or around, the 98.4 ? F mark.

However, on the other hand, if we were in a tropical jungle, or in a desert, and the outside temperature was 110 ? F, our internal body temperature should still be at around the normal 98.4 ? F.

Each and every process, or reaction, within our bodies has its own suitable environment, referred to as its norm. Sometimes, influences, can cause deviation, away from this norm, and the body will usually recognise this change, and correct it – this is called negative feedback. A couple of other simple examples of negative feedback are, as follows:

The importance of Balance

This is the optimum condition in which to maintain a consistent internal environment inside our bodies, regardless of what the external environment may be. Yes, sometimes, an external, or an internal, influence can cause deviation from this ideal norm, and our bodies have to deal with it to restore that ‘balance’: that’s what homeostasis is all about.

So, anything that ‘invades’ us; and, upsets or alters, the balance of our normal healthy body systems, will have serious effects on our health and well being. An ‘invasion’ doesn’t always come from the outside, because it can come from within too. Our bodies are very complex electro chemical organisms, and they can produce their own ‘invaders’: these invaders are known as ‘Free radicals’.

Some of the normal biochemical processes within our human bodies will sometimes create free radicals naturally, however, under normal circumstances our bodies can keep them in check. There are many other different factors that can contribute to the creation of free radicals; such as, over exposure to the sun; and, we are all familiar with how people look when they’ve had too much sun. They frequently become ‘dried up’ and their skin becomes wrinkled: their appearance is the result of free radicals at work within them.

Exercise and free radicals

Paradoxically, although we know that physical exercise is good and healthy for us, some people who over exercise can also produce a massive proliferation of free radicals within their bodies. Additionally, there are also many environmental pollutants; such as diet and tobacco smoke, or car exhaust fumes that can all be responsible for creating free radicals.

The billions of cells within our bodies, consist of trillions upon trillions of atoms, and each one of these atoms contains sub atomic particles called ‘electrons’. These are electrically charged particles and they are usually bonded together, so they usually travel in pairs. However, sometimes an electron can become detached and ‘unpaired’; and, when this happens, these ‘unpaired electrons’ will always look to find another electron to pair up with.

When this happens, it sometimes results in the unpaired electron bonding with an atom or molecule, by ‘stealing’ an electron from that atom or molecule; thus leaving yet another electron without a partner. The ‘newly single’ electron will immediately go off and try to find a new partner for itself. So, this can create a ‘chain reaction’ as the process repeats itself, over and over, and causes really serious structural damage to our cells and tissues. The formation of large numbers of free radicals just stimulates the production of more free radicals and simply causes more cellular and tissue damage.

The presence of a large number of free radicals in our bodies can also adversely alter the way our bodies ‘code’ genetic material. If this happens then sometimes the changes that the free radicals cause in; for example, the structure of the proteins that our bodies ‘build’ from amino acids, may be seen by our immune systems as a ‘foreign substance. If this occurs then our immune system will try to destroy it! In addition, the formation of mutated proteins can also lead to eventual damage of the immune system; and, this can lead to leukemia and other malignant cancers.

Our dietary intake can also contribute to the formation of free radicals. Our body obtains nutrients when we consume our food; and, in doing so, the body utilizes oxygen in the process of turning our food into energy, in an oxidative chemical reaction, that our bodies can use. In this process, oxygen molecules are released and some contain an unpaired electron.

If food is cooked at too high a temperature, when cooking in fats and oils, the cooking process can produce very high numbers of free radicals; and, a diet that is too high in fat content can significantly increase free radical activity within our bodies,

This is because oxidation occurs more readily in fat molecules than it does in carbohydrate or protein molecules. When this occurs, these oxygen free radicals can be produced in extremely high numbers and they can cause very serious cellular, tissue and organ damage to our bodies: and, they are also the cause of many common types of cancer.

Although our bodies rely on oxygen for our very existence; oxygen is a highly reactive atom; and, it is one of the many things that can produce these things called free radicals. These can cause very serious oxidative damage to the contents of our cells, such as altering our DNA and even causing some proteins to mutate. That’s why our bodies have a requirement for a variety of substances known as antioxidants to neutralize the free radicals before they can cause any damage.


These dangerous ‘wild card’ atoms and chemical groups, the free radicals, can be formed, both internally and externally. However, there are substances that will quench, or scavenge, these oxygen free radicals, and these substances are known as ‘antioxidants’. They are compounds that can neutralize the harmful and dangerous effects of free radicals.

Our own bodies can produce some of its own antioxidants from the nutrients we obtain from the food we eat: there are certain nutrients that can be used directly as antioxidants, such as vitamin A, and vitamins C and E.

Our lifestyle can also greatly influence how much oxidative stress we can place our bodies under; and, therefore, this will affect the different quantities of antioxidants that our bodies will need. Heavy exercise, sunshine, air pollution and smoking are all known to generate substantially increase the amount of free radicals being produced.

Recently researchers have become interested in certain different plant compounds called polyphenols. These include substances called flavonoids that are now believed to form an important part of our dietary intake of antioxidants, along with the other, better known, and well established nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.

The exploration of what antioxidants are, and what they do, will be the subject of my next article; and, I will talk much more deeply about the whole range of antioxidants; where to find them, and also what each individual antioxidant actually does, to help in protecting our health.

If you have enjoyed reading the information contained in this article, or would like to ask questions about the importance of human nutrition, or just have a general chat about how to achieve weighloss the healthy way, please leave your comments or questions by dropping me a line in the comments box provided below.