About Free Radicals

By Jon Barron

What is a Free Radical?

A free radical is an especially reactive atom or group of atoms that has one or more unpaired electrons. If you remember your high school chemistry, you will remember that electrons come in pairs. When one electron is lost from that pair, it makes the atom “highly reactive” as it looks to replace that lost electron anywhere it can. In your body, those replacement electrons come from cells in your body–destroying those cells in the process. Free radicals put your body in a state of oxidative stress in which your body is no longer able to maintain a balance between the appearance of reactive oxygen species and its ability to detoxify those free radicals or to repair the resulting damage. That’s why free radicals function as cellular killers that wreak havoc by damaging DNA, altering biochemical compounds, corroding cell membranes, and destroying cells outright.



Another way to think of free radicals is as ravenous molecular sharks–sharks so hungry that in little more than a millionth of a second, they can be making a frenzied attack on a healthy neighboring cellular molecule. A single free radical can destroy an enzyme, a protein molecule, a strand of DNA, or an entire cell. Even worse, that one free radical can unleash, in a fraction of a second, a torrential chain reaction that produces a million or more additional killer free radicals–each out hunting for living cells to destroy like a herd of sharks in a mindless feeding frenzy.

Types of Free Radicals

There are different types of free radicals in the body. They each work in different areas of the body and on different cells or even different parts of cells. Four particularly destructive ones are:

  • Superoxide Radical. This radical tries to steal its much-needed electron from the mitochondria of the cell. When mitochondria are destroyed, the cell loses its ability to convert food to energy. It dies.
  • Hydroxyl radical. This free radical attacks enzymes, proteins, and the unsaturated fats in cell membranes.
  • Lipid Peroxyl Radical. This radical unleashes a chain reaction of chemical events that can so totally compromise the cellular membrane that the cell bursts open, spews its contents, and dies.
  • Singlet Oxygen. Not technically a free radical, this metabolite can nevertheless wreak havoc on the body. It’s listed here because it functions like a free radical and because it is controlled by antioxidants.




Free Radicals and Cancer

The connection between free radicals and cancer has been recognized for decades, but the underlying mechanisms have steadily become more apparent. For example, recently, it is becoming increasingly clear that metabolic oxidative free radical reactions are altered in cancer cells vs. normal cells. The current consensus is that cancer cells may exist in a chronic state of metabolic oxidative stress which may represent a significant underlying mechanism contributing to that cell’s malignancy. A unifying goal of the investigators in the Free Radical Cancer Biology Program, out of the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, is to utilize a comprehensive understanding of redox biology to develop new biochemical techniques for improving cancer therapy by taking advantage of fundamental differences in the oxidative metabolism between cancerous cells and normal cells.

 

How to reduce your drug burden

By Jim Fain

I’ve written about the travails of using prescribed/OTC drugs for reducing acid reflux (GERD, heartburn) several times. This group of drugs is very commonly used daily and is in fact one of the biggest selling and profit making pills ever. The group is called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). Specifically, the names Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec, Protonix, Omeprazole and Aciphex come to mind. All of these reduce the production of stomach acid. If you’re feeling crummy and your doc can’t quite get a finger on the pulse, maybe your ailment is caused by or made worse by drug therapy. I’m repeating myself, I know, but I’m wanting the word to get out.






A little bit ago, I started  a series of columns in which I described how prescribed drugs can and often do interfere with the absorption of necessary nutrients. This is little known, as it is rarely talked about. Nutritional deficiencies can be diagnosed as a new ailment contributing to having yet another prescription written. Common sense tells us the more drugs we take and the longer we take them, the risk of nutritional deficiency would increase. So far, I’ve discussed the drugs for lowering blood pressure like Lisinopril, statin drugs to reduce cholesterol and Metformin (glucophage) commonly used for the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

I started the first column with the following; “In our nutty system which often pits medications/science against nutritional supplements, the bias supporting medicine is usually given top dog status. Dire warnings abound that if you do this drug or that, then these supplements will interfere causing harm. Rarely, is there a balanced approach. Suppose the prescription medication bias with huge amounts of corporate money backing it is entirely backwards? Suppose the prescription drug is actually interfering with the absorption of the nutritional supplement. Suppose, it is well established that prescribed drugs often and commonly create new ailments by causing vitamin and mineral deficits … what would you do? Think about this as this is more often the case than we can imagine.”




Consider the possible impact of the long list of heartburn/GERD drugs above on the reduced absorption of folic acid, B12, beta-carotene, calcium, iron and curiously thyroid hormone levothyroxine and synthroid. Yes, it is true that reducing stomach acid can cause anemia, tiredness, skin troubles, osteoporosis (bone thinning) and then all of the troubles of low thyroid (and there are many of them). All of this can be countered by proper nutritional supplementation. It may be possible to replace the drugs with naturals but the rebound effect of stopping the drug is powerful … this reduces in time. If you can reduce your drug burden, likely you’ll feel better.

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