Free radicals don’t just cause wrinkles and aging; they damage immune function and cause cell mutations. According to some researchers, free radicals are behind almost every known disease, including alzheimer’s, cancer, parkinson’s and heart disease. Free radicals form incessantly and rapidly in the human body.
Free radicals develop as follows. Cells are made up of atoms, and each atom is made up of a nucleus surrounded by a cloud of electron pairs. A “stable” molecule is one in which every atom has paired electrons, whereas a “free” radical is one carrying an electron in desperate search of a mate. When a free radical steals an electron from another molecule, the victimized molecule becomes a free radical, and this can cause a dangerous chain reaction. Since every unpaired electron is looking for a mate in order for its molecule to be stable, this practice of stealing other molecules’ electrons is commonplace in the human body.
There is a natural cure for free radicals: antioxidants. The human body generates some antioxidants and others are found in food products. Upon meeting a free radical, an antioxidant voluntarily gives up one of its own electrons to stabilize the free radical molecule and hence put a stop to a dangerous chain reaction. Although the antioxidant is now a free radical, it is weak and therefore it is improbable that it will snag an electron from a neighboring cell. Conclusively, antioxidants may prevent or slow the growth of cancer.
Dr. Bruce Ames, a renowned scientist in the field of antioxidants and professor at UC Berkeley, estimates that each human cell is affected by a free radical about 10,000 times a day. To put this number into perspective, the human body is composed of trillions of cells. In normal circumstances, the process described above is reversible by antioxidants. The danger when this process becomes irreversible (by lack of antioxidant activity) and causes a continuous chain reaction which can devastate cells by destroying DNA, eradicating cytokine (communication) pathways, and demolishing the cells’ structures. Such devastation may lead to disease such as cancer.
Free radicals can positively or negatively impact cells. They are significant contributors in carcinogenesis (the creation of cancer) and in establishing the frequency of cancer. Various factors may mutate the neoplastic process (abnormal proliferation of cells, often causing tumors) at its various stages of development. When permissive factors for the development of the neoplastic process do not prevail, protective factors, like free radicals, will hinder the beginning and succession of the neoplastic process.
As part of some cancer treatments, such as radiation, free radicals are created in order to eradicate cancer cells. It is imperative that a cancer patient speaks with his doctor before beginning any antioxidant “treatment” because the ingestion of antioxidants may, in some cases, decrease the effectiveness of cancer treatment. As far as actions everyone can take, reducing exposure to toxins such as UV light, radiation and tobacco smoke can hinder the formation of free radicals and thereby help prevent cancer.
Disclaimer: This article represents our best efforts but is in no way meant to replace the critical dialogue and recommendations of a healthcare professional. If you believe that you, or someone you know suffers from the conditions described here, see your healthcare provider. Do not attempt to treat yourself or anyone else without proper medical supervision. You can also view our list of Oncologists and Cancer Treatment Centers for more info.