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Understanding oxidative stress and sources of free radicals

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May I crave your indulgence to reproduce the concluding paragraph of my article in last week’s edition of The Guardian Newspaper:

Ongoing research which started about 50 years ago have shown that oxidative stress is the cause of several chronic degenerative diseases that afflict the human being. These diseases include cardiovascular conditions such as arteriosclerosis, hypertension, heart attack and heart failure. Others are glomerulonephritis, chronic renal failure, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and depression. Also included in the list, are such conditions as rheum1atoid arthritis, inflammation, diabetes, aging and cancer. Macular degeneration, cataract and pre-eclampsia are also known to be associated with oxidative stress.

We can now see clearly diseases that are referred to as chronic degenerative diseases. These diseases are caused by free radicals through a process of oxidation known as oxidative stress. I consider this number of diseases as significant and these are some of the most common diseases that afflict the human being. I am of the opinion that we should pay maximum attention to it, understanding how it works and how to treat it or handle it.

What exactly is oxidation?
When water drops continuously on an iron, it becomes rusty after a period. That’s oxidation. If you slice an apple into two and leave it exposed to the atmosphere, it turns brown after a period. That is oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical reaction, which also occurs, in spoilt food or rotten meat.

Let us look more closely at the free radical. Normally an atom has a nucleus and two electrons that circulate in the outer orbit of the atom. Occasionally, an atom gets released with an unpaired electron in the outer orbit. Such an atom is called a FREE RADICAL. Since it has one electron instead of two, it is unbalanced and very aggressive looking for an electron from a nearby cell membrane. Free radicals, which are also referred to as reactive oxygen species (ROS) commonly attack cell membranes, nuclear membranes and DNA inside the nucleus of the cell. Any structure from where the free radical snatches an electron becomes a free radical and destroyed by the process of oxidative stress. This will eventually set up a viscous cycle, which will lead to damage and destruction of the cell and ultimately to a chronic disease. Free radicals can be compared to smoke that comes out of fire. Energy is produced in the mitochondria in every cell in the body by oxidation of food by the oxygen we breathe. Just like smoke from fire so does we have free radicals released from the chemical reaction in the mitochondria.

Types of food that can easily produce free radicals are hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats, fried foods, excessive sugar consumption, highly processed foods, vegetable cooking oils, polyunsaturated fats, sauses etc.

Inflammatory diseases known to produce free radicals include coronary artery disease, arthritis, asthma, cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and colitis. Sinus infections, colds, bronchitis, bladder and yeast infections also create free radicals. The following conditions create tremendous amount of free radicals: excessive exercise, muscle aches and sprains. Long distant runners, marathoners and athletes who may over-train age faster because of exposure to tremendous amount of free radicals in their active days.

Every human being is exposed to toxins and pollutants on a daily basis. These toxins generate free radicals in abundance. Herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers all find their way into our drinking water and create free radicals. Not only that, these toxins adds to the burden of the liver in its function of detoxification. Inhaling secondary smoke from a smoker is very dangerous. Added to this is the inhalation of carbon monoxide smoke from the exhaust of cars and smoke pipes from factories.

I have presented this write in a reader-friendly fashion in order that every reader will have a clear understanding of this topic. The diseases that are associated with excess of free radicals are all very serious but the prevention of the diseases is as easy as taking five to eight different antioxidants on a regular basis.


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