WARNING: This post could be dangerous to your health.
Radicals are dangerous to your health. And radicals are free. If A equals be and be equals see, then radicals that are free are radicals we might want to know about.
In fact, radicals are free and abundant. For years, from a health perspective we’ve heard a lot about protecting ourselves against free radicals. In other words, they are bad. But if we didn’t have free radicals, we wouldn’t be able to fight certain viruses and diseases (or run combustible engines). They can’t be all that bad So maybe some free radicals are good and some are bad. Or some are good and too many are bad. Or perhaps the idea is simply keeping them in check.
So what are they? The ones we hear caution about are related to oxygen. Free radicals are atoms, or in oxygen’s case, molecules, in which the outer valence shell ends up loosing one electron. The O2 molecule is stable, until it looses one electron and becomes unstable. When that O2 molecule becomes unstable, it looks for another molecule from which it can steal an electron, which then starts a chain reaction of theft. If left unchecked, the process can cause damage at the cellular level.
Lots of factors cause the production of free radicals. Normal metabolism produces a certain amount in our systems, but they also come from pollution, cigarette smoke, radiation, and lots of exercise.
Since we are talking about Oxygen, the more oxygen we take in (breathing heavy), the more free radicals we produce. More heavy aerobics, more free radicals. Free radicals essentially act as an oxidizing agent. (cut open an apple and what happens?)
The good thing is, our bodies have enzyme systems which produce antioxidants. Magically, antioxidants are atoms/molecules with an extra electron. They join with the free radical and turn them from unstable to stable. Voila — oxidizing meets antioxidizing and stability happens.
But our bodies don’t produce all the antioxidants we need if we are super active. We must supplement our system’s production by ingesting the antioxidants which our bodies cannot produce. Many of those antioxidants come from vitamins and minerals such as A, C, E, and selenium (naming a few). And wouldn’t you know it, they are available in many of the foods we (should) eat.
There are many proponents of supplements. It’s probably not a bad idea of you’ve been compromised. My system has been heavily compromised by radiation/chemo, as has anyone else who’s gone through the same. And if I’m doing anything physically extreme, then probably all the more reason for popping a few strategic supplements. This past Sunday was a god example. Went with a few friends on a beautiful ride over the mountain pass of Bocaron and partway down through the valley of Santa Fe Antiochia. The ride took some huffing and puffing so upon return took a few supplements (with the carb/protein custom made drink). The trick is not over-supplementing. Too many antioxidants could be as bad as being deficient. Finding that balance is the trick. How to do that? Good luck and a lot of reading.
The intake of extreme amounts of free radicals is one of the reasons that many endurance athletes get sick more than they should. Some are unfamiliar with ideal rest and nutrition techniques. Too many free radicals can lead to a compromised immune system. Some argue that the weekend warrior doesn’t do herself any favors, which is a good argument for exercise which is moderate and consistent, while paying attention to a balanced diet.
On today’s ride, despite the fact that we ended up in mountain fresh air for hours, to get to that air meant riding uphill through some moderate road congestion. Nothing like breathing heavy and getting passed by trucks and busses spewing out deep black clouds of exhaust. It literally meant riding into a thick black cloud and sucking in. A triple dose of extra free radicals.
As in our bodies, there is always a healthy percentage of free radicals in our societies. A certain amount is healthy, keeping societal viruses and bacterias in check. And most societies have a system for making sure the ratio of free radicals doesn’t get out of whack and do damage. But we’ve seen lots of societies where free radicals have grown beyond the check point. Damage ends up being innocent, unarmed people getting killed by radicals.
When there is societal oxidizing, doing damage, it’s fundamental that humans do something to stop the damage. When the system can’t take care of the radicals, it goes begging for antioxidants from the outside. If a societal free radical’s only recourse is to slaughter another human, then those radicals are better off neutralized for the health of the system. Radicals who do damage are those who have lost an electron in their outer valence shell (a screw loose) and become unstable.
While free radicals within societies play an important role by making sure those in power are in check, when they start to do damage, whether it’s the governed or those governing, then supplements are needed. When supplements don’t arrive or the system can’t produce its own neutralization (think Uganda, Cambodia, Sudan, NYC 9/11), the result is thousands or millions of innocent humans destroyed by other human radicals.
Whether it’s internal or external, finding the right mix of antioxidants to free radicals is a constant challenge. It’s not always easy knowing how and when to neutralize the start of system damage, but knowing a balance needs to be achieved is half the battle. Not knowing could be dangerous to your health.