What Are These Things We Call Free Radicals? Are They Free, and Do We Want Them?
The "Free Radical" is the source for virtually
all disease, illness and aging itself! Science has come a long way on
this -- further by far than the medical establishment has moved on it.
Many doctors will acknowledge that free radicals are the basic cause of
disease, but since they don't have any drugs to treat free radicals with, they
continue to administer drugs which are, themselves, often sources of more free
There are substances which neutralize free radicals. The best known is probably Vitamin C, Selenium and Pine Bark extract, or grape seed extract but there are others also.
On this page you learn a bit about this terrible source of problems in our health world, and how you can prevent them from causing problems for you. Free radical biology is the study of the interaction of free radicals with biological material. Free radicals are atoms or molecules with at least one unpaired electron.
There is center portion often referred to as including "protons" and ”neutrons." The center is also called the nucleus. Then, there are eight electrons in two spheres around the center nucleus. These electrons move around the center like the earth moves around the sun.
In most atoms there is an even number of electrons in the outer circles (or spheres).
When the oxygen atom is in this condition the "electrical charge" of the electrons (minus electricity) is balanced by the electrical charge of the nucleus (positive electricity).
However, when one atom of oxygen LOSES one electron, and then has an ODD number of electrons in the outer ring, then THAT atom is called a free radical. In this case it would be a free radical of oxygen.
A free radical has an excess of positive electrical charge (because there is one less electron in its rings) and that means that this free radical is able to attract an electron from some other atom or molecule. This "taking" of a free electron from somewhere else means that the free radical is now balanced and is no longer a free radical.
Missing Electron == Positive Charge!
Extra Electron == Negative Charge!
Balanced == Neutral -- No Charge!
However, the atom or molecule from which the electron was taken may now, itself, become a free radical, or may be damaged in some way.
One of the primary types of damage caused by free radicals can be traced back to radiation. In other words, sunlight, X-Rays or other radiation hits the body and creates free radicals inside the body. These are free radicals which, in turn, grab some loose electron from somewhere, and thus create a new free radical.
This process is described as a "chain reaction" because one free radical can be neutralized and create a new free radical which is then neutralized, etc. These actions take place in a tiny amount of time -- less than a millionth of a second.
Thus, one free radical may "exist" for only a very tiny amount of time, but one free radical can set off a chain reaction of millions more free radicals being created and then neutralized. Each time a free radical is "neutralized" there could be some damage to part of the body.
Free radical biology is closely related to radiation biology since 70-80% of the effects of radiation on cells are due to the production of free radicals. The study of free radicals has become of extreme interest because of the role of free radicals in a large number of diseases and pathological states.
As examples, cancer, aging, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and Lou Gehrig's disease all have a free radical component to their mechanism of injury. The use of free radical modulators (like Vitamin C and Microhydrin) in the prevention and treatment of these diseases is under close investigation at this time including clinical trials.
Research in free radical biology is quite interdisciplinary. Research ranges from studies of the fundamental chemistry of free radical reactions, to antioxidant enzymes (their biophysics, biochemistry, biology and molecular biology), to free radical pathology, to even epidemiological studies. It is a broad area of research with many opportunities.
All cells in the body have a "skin" or "membrane" as an outer shell. This is the shell which contains all the components of the cell and which allows the cell to exist as a separate living entity.
This membrane is mostly made of cholesterol -- a very important building material used by the body. The cell uses cholesterol, and in fact can even manufacture cholesterol, to build the cell membrane.
Cholesterol, itself, includes oxygen as part of its chemical make-up. This oxygen, usually, is in the form of oxygen atoms which each have those stable EIGHT electrons going around the nucleus.
In a loose sense you could say that the cells in your body are made with a skin of fat -- since cholesterol is just a name for a particular type of fat.
Fat is particularly vulnerable to being damaged by free radicals. The damage is typically caused by some free radical hitting the membrane of the cell and "stealing" one electron from some atom of oxygen in that membrane.
When that happens the cholesterol is referred to as "oxidized." The term "oxidized" simply means that the oxygen in some substance has lost an electron and has taken on a positive electrical charge.
That oxygen atom, then, has, itself, become a free radical, trying to get another electron somewhere so that it can again be "balanced."
As more and more free radicals hit the membrane of a cell, and as more and more of the oxygen in the cholesterol get "oxidized" that cell wall, the membrane, becomes less and less able to function as it should. What might happen?
Well, that cell membrane has to allow water and nutrients to enter the cell, and has to allow the garbage and waste products of the cell to leave the cell. Both of these actions mean that the membrane allows passage of materials (mostly water with other stuff included) to move through it.
If the membrane is damaged by free radicals, that "passage" may not work properly. One consequence of this might be that garbage accumulates inside the cell and it dies in a sea of toxic waste! Or, the cell may not be able to take in nutrients and it could starve to death.
These health problems for that one cell translate, as millions of cells are affected, to health problems you perceive in your body as any one of hundreds of different diseases.
When the free radicals initiate the oxidation of the cholesterol (also called, technically, the lipid peroxidation chain reaction) the excessive energy damages even the proteins in the membrane. As a result the membrane does not properly function to take nutrients into the cell and to remove waste products, and so the cell cannot reproduce itself and dies due to starvation or drowning in waste products. This type of damage accelerates the aging process as tissues lose their function due to the steadily decreasing number of cells.
Each cell contains a blueprint by which it causes a new cell to be created. This is very much like the birth of a baby. The cell has this blueprint and when the time comes, the cell uses that blueprint to build a new (baby) cell. The blueprint is often referred to as the "DNA" (deoxyribonucleic acid) of the cell. It is an extremely complex molecule with thousands of atoms connected together in all sorts of complicated ways. This mass of atoms, each with its own supply of electrons, is all connected. You could say that it is one large molecule (since a molecule is nothing more than two or more atoms connected in some way). This large and complex molecule, as I said, has zillions of electrons within it.
If JUST ONE of those electrons is taken away by some wandering free radical, that entire DNA MAY become defective. It might also have so little effect that the DNA is still fully functional for cell reproduction.
But, with the zillions of free radicals hitting that DNA molecule, you can bet that once in a while some vitally important electron is taken away.
That might mean that this ONE CELL cannot reproduce. OR, it might mean that this one cell will reproduce but will reproduce as a CANCER Cell!
Yes, cancer is nothing more than cells which reproduce in an abnormally fast rate -- because the DNA blueprint has been altered by free radical damage.
Basically all disease has some connection with damage done to the individual cells in the body. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the genetic material that builds the enzymes that build the structure of the body. When DNA is damaged it may make mutated enzymes that may not be able to function, and cells cannot be reproduced. Again, this would accelerate the aging process.
Free radicals can also weld molecules together - much like putting handcuffs on them - so they don't function properly. When free radicals weld molecules of the skin protein collagen together, the skin looses its elasticity and smoothness and becomes stiff and wrinkled.
When free radical problems first began to be understood many decades ago, there was an urgent search for substances which would neutralize free radical. Vitamin C has long been known as a "free radical scavenger," as have other vitamins. But, science found more.
One that was a very popular fad just starting a few years ago was an extract from the bark of a particular pine tree that grows in France and Canada. That substance has come to be known by the commercial and trademarked name of Pycnogenol. The scientist who discovered the pine bark extract failed to protect his discovery and it was taken over, and then patented, by the people who trademarked the name Pycnogenol. Because the name was protected, this one product got lots of publicity and sales.
But, that same scientist also discovered that an extract of grape seeds gave the same free radical fighting power as the extract from pine bark. You'll find Pycnogenol being sold by hundreds of companies, but all must buy from the single source that has trademarked that name.
Since "grape seed extract" never got its own fancy name, and since it has the same power as Pycnogenol, you can find grape seed extract sold by many more companies, and generally at prices quite a bit lower than Pycnogenol. But, the search has been on for years to find more and better "free radical scavengers."
In summary, your body is bombarded with free radicals -- coming in from external sources. These include cigarette smoke, smog and any one of millions of toxic substances which you take into your body with food or water or breathing.
The sun, as well as all types of radiation, causes free radicals to be produced inside the body. As these free radicals move through the body at very high speed, they are "looking" for an electron to make their status balanced. I speak of these as if they were alive! They are not! But, the mechanical and electromagnetic action of these particles makes them appear to be "evil" and alive!
The mechanism is one of simple attraction between a negatively charged particle and a positively charged particle. It is not mysterious, but it happens at such a level of small size, and in such great quantity that people often refer to free radicals as if they were living, evil creatures. The process of neutralizing a free radical is also not at all mysterious or complicated.
A free radical is neutralized, simply, but acquiring one electron from somewhere. That is the end of the problems caused by THAT free radical. But, it is the beginning of the problems caused by the NEW free radical that was created because some particle gave up an electron and thus became a positively charged particle.
Normally a free radical scavenger would be, for instance, a particle of something like Vitamin C. That particle can be referred to as a "molecule" since it consists of many different atoms all connected together.
That particle of Vitamin C is enormously larger than a single atom of hydrogen -- perhaps a million times larger. But, large as it is, that one molecule of Vitamin C can neutralize only one free radical -- it gives up ONE electron to do that, and after that the Vitamin C has no more electrons which are easily given up!
But, what Dr. Patrick Flanagan did was to realize that if you could ADD one electron to the hydrogen atom it would no longer be balanced, but would actually have two negatively charged electrons revolving around ONE unit of positively charged nucleus. Thus, the hydrogen, with two electrons, would give up one of those electrons with great ease. When that double-electron form of hydrogen gives up one electron the remaining hydrogen is still a balanced particle. It would have a positively charged central nucleus (proton) and one negatively charged electron.
Thus, the hydrogen atom with an extra electron neutralizes one free radical but does not, itself, then become a new free radical. This is a brand new concept in biochemistry. Every other free radical scavenger neutralizes a free radical by, itself, becoming a new free radical. Note that this new free radical may be so different from the previous free radical that it doesn't move fast and doesn't cause damage (mostly because it is so large that it cannot penetrate cells, etc.).
So, Dr. Patrick Flanagan found a way to add one extra electron to one atom of hydrogen. Since the hydrogen atom is SO tiny compared to a molecule of Vitamin C, and since ONE atom of hydrogen does just as much free radical neutralizing as ONE molecule of Vitamin C, you can see that the hydrogen atom is far more powerful for any given unit of space.
In other words, ONE capsule of Vitamin C would not even come close the free radical-fighting power of ONE capsule of Microhydrin.
And, the hydrogen atom does NOT become a new free radical when it is used to neutralize a free radical.
Finally, you have on this page a simple explanation of what a free radical is and how it causes damage in the body.Then, there is some information here about how to neutralize them.
Have a question for Karl? Ask or leave a comment below!