Free radicals are beneficial to our body as they are produced by white blood cells to destroy invading pathogens such as bacteria and viruses, and kill cancer cells. But after they have done their job of defense and the immune fight is over, the free radicals have to be destroyed because they are still very active and will attack our cells, thus becoming harmful.
Free radicals are also formed every day in a number of ways to fulfill different purposes:
– The body generates free radicals while utilizing oxygen to produce the energy necessary for the body processes essential to life, such as breathing, thinking and more. 2% of the oxygen used for the production of this energy becomes free radicals.
– Many environmental factors such as the sun, pollution, etc. generate free radicals. (see our post “What are free radicals? What role do they play in our natural defense systems? ”)
Luckily for us, each of our cells has a natural defense system that is dedicated to destroying free radicals: our antioxidative system. The antioxidative system allows us to keep free radicals under control. It prevents them to be in excess and keeps them from triggering oxidative damage, i.e. oxidative stress.
The antioxidative system is a defense system that uses a large range of antioxidative enzymes, including SOD (Superoxide dismutase), GPx (Glutathione peroxidase), Gr (Glutathione reductase), and catalases.
These enzymes are genetically programmed in our cells to destroy free radicals 24 hours a day and protect our body from injury. But they cannot function on their own. To be efficient, they require the help of coenzymes such as copper, zinc, manganese, and selenium, which are found in our food. Other components such as vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and vitamin B are also needed to complete the antioxidative system.
Many clinical studies have shown that oxidative stress is a factor in a great number of diseases affecting many different parts of our body.
A balanced oxidant/antioxidant ratio is crucial to keep the body healthy and our antioxidative system fights excessive free radicals.However, people are not equal when it comes to natural defenses: some people have a more effective antioxidative system than others due to their genetic makeup. Furthermore, as the antioxidative system irremediably declines with age, the oxidative stress is increasingly significant in older adults.
In spite of this, there is hope! We can counteract our declining antioxidative system by changing unhealthy habits (alcohol, tobacco, etc.), resolving stressful situations (occupational stress, etc.), avoiding environmental pollution (air, food, water, noise, radiation, etc.), and taking food supplements that can boost our defense systems.