Normally, electrons in molecules occur in pairs. However, if these contain single, unpaired electrons, they are called radicals. They arise in the body (endogenous synthesis) during respiration. The exogenous synthesis can be triggered inter alia by the action of UV or radioactive radiation, reactive substances such as ozone or nitrogen oxides (eg cigarette smoke) or by heavy metal pollution (eg in the diet). Inflammatory processes and extreme physical stress can also contribute to the so-called oxidative stress and thus to the production of radicals.Radicals are unstable but extremely reactive and can cause significant damage to the organism. The look in the mirror shows it: Radicals promote the aging process. The lonely electrons try to wrest electrons from other molecules, thus triggering chain reactions. Our genetic material, DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), proteins and lipids are popular targets.
But radicals also "help" the human body. They fight off microorganisms (bacteria and viruses) and eliminate foreign substances, for example in the immune defense of infections. However, in the concentrations that occur today in industrialized nations due to the ever-increasing burden of pollutants, they are not useful to humans. Although our bodies have mechanisms to protect us, in the case of persistent and strong "attack", other serious problems, such as "cancer" or the eye disease "cataract", can occur in addition to "premature aging".
"Free radical scavenger"
The body has two defense mechanisms to deal with the flood of free radicals. An enzymatic and a non-enzymatic system. These are called "radical scavengers". They exert their effect on the release of electrons to radicals, without becoming self-reactive.
The enzymes (enzymes catalyze processes in the body) include glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase. In order for these enzymes to work effectively, various trace minerals such as zinc, selenium, copper, iron and manganese must be sufficiently ingested with food, or supplemented or supplemented if necessary.
Non-enzymatic protective agents or antioxidants called, are some vitamins (vitamin E and vitamin C) and various phytochemicals (eg flavonoids, carotenoids). These phytochemicals, of which there are an estimated 30, 000, serve the plant in different ways. As a protection against "feeding" or for the formation of color (for example, lycopene, which makes the tomato "blush"). The term "phytochemicals" results from the knowledge that they are not important for primary metabolic processes of the plant such as growth. At the beginning of the 1990s it was discovered that these substances have various health promoting properties in humans.
When our protective mechanisms are overwhelmed: cancer and cataract
It is argued that the damage that radicals can cause to DNA, proteins or lipids plays a role in the development of degenerative diseases such as cancer, cataracts, rheumatism, cardiovascular disease, immunodeficiency and brain dysfunction (Alzheimer's disease), In order to help our protection systems, it is helpful to note the following tips:
- One apple a day, keeps the doctor away. Not only does the apple have a radical scavenging function because of its vitamin C content, but also because of its phytochemicals, especially in the skin and juice. The German Nutrition Society recommends 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. The portion size depends on the size of your fist. The more fruits and vegetables spread throughout the day, the better. Pay attention to the freshness of your "vitality bombs".
- Some vegetable oils have an increased content of polyunsaturated fatty acids. These can be easily oxidized and thus "radicalized". Do not store oils for too long. Special case thistle oil: Use it only in small quantities because of its high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Sunflower, wheat germ and olive oil have a high content of vitamin E and have a beneficial effect on your antioxidant protection systems.
- Wine may have a protective effect due to its content of phytochemicals (polyphenols). Here is: quality over quantity!
- The trace element selenium is essential for the function of glutathione peroxidase. High levels of selenium are found in protein-rich foods such as fish and meat. Vegetarians can cover their selenium needs with legumes and nuts. Grain is also a source of supply depending on the selenium content of the soil.
- Grain and meat are also good suppliers of the minerals zinc and iron, which are necessary for other protection systems.
In general, it is recommended to follow a varied mixed diet, so you are well taken care of!