What the Heck Is a Free Radical

Cure Arthritis Naturally

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You have probably heard the ads on TV about the importance of antioxidants, but have only vaguely understood what they do or what oxidation is. Oxidation is a common, everyday process—from rusting of metal left out in the weather to our need for oxygen to breathe. At the same time, oxygen is a powerful destroyer of life. All of us are aware that without oxygen we would quickly die; however, few of us are aware that this same life-giving oxygen is slowly killing us and making us sick.

All living organisms must produce energy to carry out the many functions of the body, from the beating of our hearts to thinking. This energy is derived from the food we eat, and the process that brings this about is a very complicated series of biochemical reactions called metabolism. During this breakdown process, electrons flow down through a series of steplike reactions, eventually producing the universal energy molecule, ATP (adenosine triphosphate).

During this carefully regulated chemical process, some of the electrons escape and act as very reactive particles we call free radicals. (About 95 percent of the oxygen that enters our cells goes to mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, but 3-5 percent of this oxygen escapes in the form of free radicals.) These particles can damage any part of the cell with which they come into contact. You can visualize them as red-hot particles bouncing in all directions within the cell, burning the DNA, the cell membranes and the proteins within the cytoplasm. When these particles burn proteins, they produce oxidized proteins called protein carbonyl products. This is important because many cellular proteins are, in fact, enzymes that allow the thousands of chemical reactions of metabolism to take place: when these enzymes are damaged, they can no longer function properly, and as a result, the cell becomes weaker.

When free radicals interact with the cell's membranes, they set up a chain reaction of destruction that spreads through the wall of the membrane in all directions like a wildfire. If you have ever touched a red-hot wire to a tissue paper, you will have an idea of how the fire spreads out from the point of contact, burning up the tissue. A cell has many membranes that enclose not only the cell itself, but also all of the little components inside, such as the mitochondria, nucleus, endoplasmic reticulum, and golgi apparatus. These cell membranes are composed of rows of fatty molecules arranged side by side in two layers, separated by the tails of the fat molecules. When the free-radical reaction begins, it is these fatty acids that are damaged.

Cell membranes are more than just a covering for the cell and its components. These membranes also contain numerous complex structures such as special pores, transfer enzymes, information molecules, and many receptors. So free-radical damage to these membranes severely affects cellular function. This process of oxidation of the fatty membranes is called lipid peroxidation. As we shall see, lipid peroxidation occurs in almost every disease we know of, especially chronic inflammatory diseases such as cancer, degenerative brain diseases, arthritis, lupus, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Lipid peroxidation greatly affects organs with a high fat composition. Because the brain is 60 percent fat, it is especially vulnerable to the ill effects of the lipid-peroxidation process, and to toxic insults from lipid-soluble substances, such as mercury and pesticides.

After many years of oxidative injury, our cells' membranes begin to change, losing much of the soft, fluid-like quality we see in young cells. Gradually, over many years, they begin to stiffen, something we call a loss of fluidity. Stiff membranes have difficulty transferring nutrients in and out of the cell and in carrying on the numerous other functions of the membrane. As a result, our cells become sick.

Oxidation of a cell's DNA is even more perilous because DNA provides the instructions for the rest of the cell's function. In the case of the reproductive cells, the sperm, and the ova, DNA damage can even be transmitted to the cells of our children. Every cell has a system of enzymes whose function it is to repair this damage. Unfortunately, these DNA-repair

^yf MICROGLIAL ACTIVATION -► GLUTAMATE RELEASE

PGE2 (LEUKOTRIENES)

NO+O2 (superoxide)

PEROXYNITR1TE

FREE-RADICAL GENERATION

EICOSANOID GENERATION

INCREASED

FREE-RADICAL

GENERATION

PEROXYNITR1TE

EICOSANOID GENERATION

LIPID PEROXIDATION

MEMBRANE DAMAGE

FIGURE 1.1

LIPID PEROXIDATION

MEMBRANE DAMAGE

IMPAIRED CALCIUM CONTROL

MITOCHONDRIAL DNA DAMAGE COMPLEX I AND IV DEPRESSED

MITOCHONDRIAL DNA DAMAGE COMPLEX I AND IV DEPRESSED

EICOSANOID PRODUCTION (PGE2)

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