• Lexy Lane

Free Radicals: What You Need to Know

Without delving too deep into the science realm this blog post examines free radicals’ effect on health and how to protect and combat damage caused by free radicals.

Let’s start with what a free radical is. To put it simply, free radicals are atoms with an unpaired electron. Free radicals dislike having an unpaired an electron and so, they seek out another electron to make a complete pair. Having an unpaired electron makes these guys unstable and highly reactive. Inside the body, free radicals become reactive with the body's cells. This is bad news for our cells. The danger in free radicals lies in their reactive state, as they literally steal electrons to complete their pair and damage our cells in the process! If you have ever heard of the term “oxidative stress,” it is this process to which the term is referring. Oxidative stress can damage cellular membranes (the protective barrier of healthy cells) as well as disrupt other cellular components like mitochondria, lipids, protein, even our DNA! Bare in mind: without healthy cells, we cannot have healthy organs, and without healthy organs we cannot have a healthy body. In fact, degenerative diseases, including cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer's, have been linked to free radical damage and implicated in the aging process (1,2). Fortunately, this impact can be mitigated with a couple simple, conscious efforts.

Before we understand how to protect ourselves from the damaging effects of free radicals, we must first understand where free radicals come from. You may be surprised to learn free radicals are a natural by-product from every-day essential metabolic processes, meaning free radicals are generated internally to some degree day-to-day simply from being alive. Of greater concern however, is external exposure to free radical generating substances. Exposure to free radicals depends largely on individual lifestyle and our given environment. Tobacco smoke, air pollution, industrial chemical pollutants, alcohol, medicine, as well as fried and processed foods are some of the more frequent pathways for free-radical exposure (3,4). With this being said, step one for protection would be to limit our exposure of free radical generating substances. Step two would be to arm our body with the capacity to neutralize free radicals! How can this be accomplished? Through Diet!

Consuming plenty of antioxidant-rich foods on a daily basis is key to preventing and mitigating damage caused by free radicals. Antioxidants safely interact with free radicals by binding to the free radical. This bind prevents the free radical from binding to healthy cells, ultimately blocking the deleterious oxidation process. Even more, antioxidants can assist in reversing the damage of free radicals (5)!!!

The following is an excerpt of some antioxidant rich foods to assist in neutralizing and reversing damage from free-radicals:

  • Blueberries

  • Cacao

  • Cherries

  • Blackberries

  • Plums

  • Pomegranates

  • Grapes

  • Cranberries

  • Strawberries

  • Pecans

  • Leafy greens like kale and spinach

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Broccoli

  • Various legumes including red beans, red kidney beans, pinto beans

  • Tomatoes


  1. Florence, T M. “The Role of Free Radicals in Disease.” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Ophthalmology, 1995 Feb;23(1):3-7. Review. PubMed PMID: 7619452 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7619452.

  2. Mandal, Ananya. “What Is Oxidative Stress?” News Medicak, AZoNetwork, 3 Aug. 2017, www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Oxidative-Stress.aspx.

  3. Lobo, V. et al. “Free Radicals, Antioxidants and Functional Foods: Impact on Human Health.” Pharmacognosy Reviews 4.8 (2010): 118–126. PMC. Web. 30 May 2018.

  4. Liou, Stephanie. “About Free Radical Damage - HOPES Huntington's Disease Information.”HOPES Stanford, HOPES Stanford, 29 June 2011, web.stanford.edu/group/hopes/cgi-bin/hopes_test/about-free-radical-damage/.

  5. Wilson, Doni. “What Causes Oxidative Stress + How to Reverse It.” Doctor Doni, 7 Dec. 2017, doctordoni.com/2017/12/what-causes-oxidative-stress/.

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