Last update: June 11, 2024

5 minute read

What are Free Radicals?

Explore the impact of free radicals and the role of antioxidants in a balanced diet for natural protection. Discover ways to mitigate aging and disease risks through simple lifestyle changes and holistic nutrition.

Stephanie Wright

By Stephanie Wright, RN, BSN

Edited by Dr. Dimitar Marinov, MD, MBA, PhD

Learn more about our editorial standards

What are free radicals, and how can you prevent them from taking over your body? We'll help you understand how free radicals work and what you can do to protect yourself against them. So grab a cup of tea (or turmeric latte) and settle down as we explore everything you need to know about free radicals.

Key takeaways

  • Free Radicals cause damage to our DNA and accelerate aging
  • Antioxidants can help combat free radicals by neutralizing their effects
  • Not all antioxidants are equal; some are better than others based on your overall health needs

    What are free radicals?

    Free radicals, also called "active radicals," are molecules that have unpaired electrons. These unstable compounds can cause damage to your DNA, cell membranes, and other important structures in your body.

    How do free radicals affect your body?

    Free radicals damage your body in many ways. They cause stress on cell functions, leading to damaged cells and DNA linked to diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer's disease. These nasty culprits are associated with aging, disease, and overall health decline as you age. Consuming unhealthy food, pollution, and UV rays are common sources of free radicals.

    Free radicals can be balanced out with the help of antioxidants from healthy food and vitamin supplements. For example, red bell peppers, pecans, and dark chocolate are packed with antioxidants for combating free radicals.

    VitaRx Tip

    Toss an extra scoop of Acai powder in your smoothie bowl to ensure you get an extra dose of antioxidants.

    How do free radicals impact aging?

    Scientists hypothesize that free radicals are one of the culprits responsible for aging pains. These highly reactive molecules damage cellular components by stealing electrons, leading to DNA mutations, protein dysfunction, and lipid peroxidation.

    DNA damage may disrupt gene expression and increase disease risk. Protein damage affects vital cellular processes, while lipid peroxidation disrupts cell membranes and signaling.

    Free radicals also target mitochondria, affecting energy production and promoting aging. Over time, accumulated damage from free radicals accelerates cellular aging, contributing to age-related changes and increased susceptibility to diseases.

    How can antioxidants protect your body against free radicals?

    This is where antioxidants come in; they neutralize free radicals, restore cell functions, and may even prevent further damage. Healthy sources of antioxidants can come from vitamins C & E plus additional forms like beta-carotene and selenium found in most fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean meats, and several supplements.

    Sourcing vitamin C can be as simple as consuming citrus fruits like oranges and lemons or goji berries containing high antioxidant properties. Vitamin E is known for its immune-boosting and brain-enhancing properties and is found in seeds/nuts like almonds and peanuts.

    Adding antioxidants like alpha-lipoic acid, coenzyme, and vitamin E to your diet as they have been proven to reduce the effects of accelerated cell aging. Also include healthy practices like exercise, healthy eating habits, and sunscreen when faced with UV exposure to minimize your exposure to harmful free radicals.

    Can you get too many antioxidants?

    While antioxidants have many health benefits for your body, having too much of a good thing can create other problems. Ingesting high levels of antioxidants through supplements might result in unintended side effects like negatively affecting your body's immune system.

    Remember, everything is in moderation! Don't overdo it with supplements or healthy food- instead, supplement your everyday diet with wholesome fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds to ensure you have excellent antioxidant levels.

    Never take more supplements than the recommended dose on the packaging. A natural but more potent source to get your daily dose of antioxidants is from healthy diets, with the best sources being vegetables and fruits.

    Is it possible to eliminate free radicals from your body?

    No, your body normally produces small amounts of free radicals. Furthermore, your bodies naturally produce antioxidants that can often combat free radicals. Problems start happening when you have too many free radicals in your body.

    To give your body a fighting chance against an excess of free radicals, you should strive to consume foods that are high in antioxidants and include lifestyle changes that promote a healthier internal environment. Simply minimizing fast and processed food will improve your internal well-being while boosting energy levels.

    Try including foods like leafy greens (kale), nuts (almonds), and orange-colored vegetables (pumpkin) in your diet to help fight free radicals. Also, make it a pointed effort to eat mindfully. You will see a significant difference in your overall health and well-being when you stick to whole foods.

    Final thoughts

    At the end of the day, free radicals, which come with their many health benefits and risks, are a natural part of your daily lives. While you can't eliminate sources of free radicals from your environment entirely, you have the ability to limit their effect through a balanced diet and lifestyle habits that may help minimize potential damage and risk of disease.



    Stephanie Wright avatar

    Stephanie brings over 13 years of diverse nursing experience to the table, having honed her expertise in critical care, mental health, and utilization management. Her journey as a registered nurse across these various healthcare sectors underscores her adaptability and deep commitment to patient care.

    Fact checker

    Dr. Dimitar Marinov avatar

    Dr. Marinov has years of experience in scientific research and preventive and clinical medicine. His publications in peer-reviewed journals are on nutritional status, physical activity, and musculoskeletal disorders among adolescents.

    At VitaRx, we're not just passionate about our work — we take immense pride in it. Our dedicated team of writers diligently follows strict editorial standards, ensuring that every piece of content we publish is accurate, current, and highly valuable. We don't just strive for quality; we aim for excellence.

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