Understanding Free Radicals

By: Bel Marra Health | Immune System | Wednesday, October 10, 2012 - 07:46 AM

free radicalsFree radicals are now considered the biggest accelerator of aging.   Although you are likely familiar with the term, if you really want to avoid falling victim to free radical damage, you need to know exactly where they come from, what they do to your body and how to neutralize them. Below is an in depth explanation of free radicals and their antidote — high ORAC foods.

The Science Behind Free Radicals

Free radicals are atoms with an odd number of electrons in their outer shell, which means that they contain an electron that is unpaired.  This is problematic because electrons like to be paired, and they steal electrons from surrounding molecules or structures in order to become a pair and gain stability. In so doing, they create a new structure with unpaired molecules, which causes a chain reaction with countless additional free radicals being formed. This process destructs living cells and damages the DNA contained within them.   Uncontrolled free radical damage not only accelerates aging, it also damages your cells.

Where Free Radicals Come From

Exposure to environmental toxins such as air pollution, cleaning chemicals, paint fumes  and cigarette smoke all cause the generation of free radicals in your body, and so too can overexposure to sunlight.  Toxins found in alcohol and most sources of water also cause the formation of free radicals.  According to many alternative healthcare practitioners, the typical American diet is the greatest cause of free radical formation in the body. This belief is not farfetched either; a recent scientific study found that the consumption of sugar measurably increases the formation of free radicals and other studies have confirmed that fried foods increase free radical levels in the body.    Unfortunately, because of the toxic pestiside residue found within them, even immune system boosting health foods can contribute to free radical damage.

ORAC: The Antidote to Free Radicals

In order to understand ORAC value you must first understand antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and prevent them from causing death and destruction to your cells and DNA.  ORAC is the acronym for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, and an ORAC score is the measurement of the antioxidant capacity of different foods and supplements.  Foods, beverages and supplements with a high ORAC value are considered the best antidote to free radicals.  The higher the ORAC score, the better the food item is at neutralizing free radicals and protecting the body from the damage that free radicals cause.

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Although all fruits and vegetables contain a medium to high ORAC value, on a gram to gram basis, spices tend to surpass produce.  Cloves, oregano, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, turmeric, parsley, nutmeg and basil all yield extremely high ORAC scores. When it comes to fruit Acai yields the highest ORAC score.  Although Acai is not available in most North American grocery stores, it is available in liquid and supplement form, and many alternative healthcare practitioners recommend drinking or supplementing with it as a preventative measure against free radical damage.  Finally, dark cocoa, berries, cherries, plums, apples, peaches and grapes, as well as artichokes, garlic, broccoli, cabbage and almonds, are all considered high ORAC foods.  In order to maximize the efficacy of these high ORAC foods, you should always buy organic, because the pesticide residue on non-organic items can offset their antioxidant yielding benefits.


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