What are free radicals?
There is a simple and complex answer to this question. On the simplest level - free radicals are basically
bad for your health. They have been linked to various health problems (more on this
Here is a little more scientific answer. Free radicals are unstable oxygen atoms. An atom contains a
nucleus which is made up of protons and neutrons. Circling around the nucleus you will usually find
pairs of electrons. Think of it this way - the nucleus is like the sun and the electrons are like
planets. If all the electrons are in pairs it is a stable atom - and all is fine.
The problem comes when for some reason (more on this later) one of the electrons gets pulled away from
the oxygen atom. When this happens you get an unstable oxygen atom - also know as a free radical.
So what is dangerous about free radicals?
Unstable free radicals do everything they can to get another electron and become stable again. The
problem is that they will rip away an electron from a normal cell in the body. This can cause serious
damage to the the normal cell. Basically, what is happening is that your body is rusting! I know, this
sounds pretty disgusting - but scientifically it is the same process. Free radicals can cause oxidation
inside the body.
Here are just some of the diseases linked to excess free radicals:
- Various Cancers
- Coronary Heart Disease
- Autoimmune Diseases
- Parkinson's Disease
What causes free radicals to form in my body?
To a certain extent - free radicals are just a part of being alive. It is estimated that every single
cell in your body gets attacked by a free radical about 10,000 times a day! As we get older the
number of free radicals increases. In your lifetime you will probably produce over 17 tons of
There are certain activities that cause the body to produce more free radicals. Here is the really bad news -
exercise and bodybuilding can greatly increase free radicals! I know it sounds crazy - working out is
supposed to make you more fit. The problem is that any process that produces stress and increases the
intake of oxygen can lead to an increase in free radicals. As you know - working out then has two strikes
against it - it is stressful and greatly increase our oxygen intake.
Other factors that lead to high levels of free radicals are: smoking tobacco, direct sunlight,
smog and pollution and foods high in fats and sugar.
Help! The free radicals must be destroying me!
Okay. I don't mean to scare everyone. I know many of you are now saying that - "I workout everyday, spend some
time in the sun and have some foods high in sugar - my body must be swimming with these evil free radicals."
Well, here is some good news - we couldn't live without free radicals! I know this sounds strange - but
free radicals do not discriminate - they attack normal cells but they also attack germs. Free radicals
can also help in terms of energy production.
So, as with almost everything in our body - it is all about achieving the proper balance. We don't
want to eliminate free radicals, we just need to keep them in check. The key to this are antioxidants.
What are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are any substances that prevent or slow the oxidation process. Remember, free radicals
cause oxidation - and antioxidants prevent oxidation. Antioxidants work by donating an electron to
a free radical so it becomes a stable oxygen molecule.
There are many different type of antioxidants such as enzymes, coenzymes, vitamins and sulfur containing
compounds. Our body produces certain antioxidants to combat free radicals, but many of the necessary
antioxidants must come from our diet.
What foods do I need to eat to get Antioxidants?
Fruits and vegetables contain the most antioxidants. The problem is that when we process fruits and
vegetables many of the antioxidants are removed. So, even eating a diet high in fruits and
vegetables can not guarantee you will get enough antioxidants - still it is a good place to start.
What is the best Antioxidant to take?
The best way to fight free radicals is with a collection of antioxidants. There is not one single
antioxidant that is most effective. In order to be effective there must be a team of antioxidants
all working together. When you supplement with with a teams of antioxidants you will find that
the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
If you are looking for an excellent universal antioxidant - fat and water soluble, then you
should read about R+ ALA. This is a fantastic antioxidant and much more
effective than the standard ALA you will find in the drug store.
How does an Antioxidant supplement help someone who works out?
As we mentioned earlier there are lots of specific diseases that have been linked to free radicals.
There are numerous studies on these topics - but that is beyond the scope of this article. Since this
is a sports supplement site we will stick to the benefits of antioxidants to the athlete. Understand
that while taking antioxidants will help you now - it also has very real long term benefits.
Working out increases the number of free radicals in the body. These free radicals can leave you
feeling sore, weak and more prone to injury and sickness after an intense workout. You may notice
that your endurance starts to drop off and you have a harder time recovering from a tough workout.
You may also get sick more than you did before you started working out. These are all signs that
free radicals have shifted the balance in your body to a state of oxidative stress.
By taking an antioxidant supplement directly after a workout you can help reduce the
oxidative stress on your body. By reducing the free radicals you are putting your body into
a more balanced mode. Understand that the idea is not to eliminate free radicals - just to
restore a proper balance.
As stated elsewhere on the PowerSupplements web site - everything is all about balance. When
you take a protein supplement you are just trying to get your body into an anabolic state rather
than catabolic. Same idea with antioxidants - you are trying to get your body out of the
oxidative stress state.