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Free Radicals & Antioxidants

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

A free radical is an atom that contains at least one unpaired electron. Electrons are negatively charged particles, usually occurring in pairs, which form stability chemically. If an electron is unpaired, another atom can bond to it, causing a chemical reaction that creates oxidative damage, particularly to the heart muscle cells, nerve cells, and specific immune system cells.

Some free radicals are not harmful; for instance, ones produced by the immune system destroy viruses and bacteria, and others have vital hormones and activate enzymes needed for life.

Free radicals come in many shapes, sizes, and chemical configurations and can damage DNA, increase LDL cholesterol, and alter a cell’s membrane. Factors that can lead to excess include radiation exposure, certain medications, environmental pollutants such as tobacco and smoke, exhaust, and a high-fat diet.

Antioxidants are naturally occurring chemicals that can help neutralize free radicals by binding to their free electrons, and many foods contain antioxidants along with a few supplements, vitamins, and minerals; Coq10, the superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase; vitamins A, C, and E, beta-carotene, selenium, zinc; and melatonin.

We are not defenseless against free radicals, and antioxidants can act on free radicals before damage can be done on a cellular level. While our bodies naturally produce some antioxidants, certain foods are the best way to ensure you’re getting enough.

Foods, Spices, Herbs & Supplements:

Grains: Brown rice, oatmeal, barley, and other whole grains

Legumes: All beans.

Meats: Eggs, tuna, salmon, beef, poultry, and oysters.

Spices: Mint, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, oregano, basil, and garlic.

Medicinal Herbs: Turmeric, ginko, burdock, milk thistle, and bilberry.

Fruits: Pomegranate, dried fruits, and plums (prunes).

Berries: Blue, black, raspberry, strawberry, Goji berries, and cranberries.

Vegetables: Artichokes, kale, cauliflower, red cabbage, peppers, beets, and tomatoes.

Nuts and seeds: Walnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachio, chestnut, sesame, and flax.

Stimulants: Green tea, coffee, and chocolate.

Vitamins-Minerals: Vitamins C, A, E, selenium, and zinc

Ayurveda’s Strategies for Oxidative Stress

Ayurveda sees free radical and antioxidant imbalance as oxidative stress, which can be caused by physical, mental, emotional, and environmental stresses (including diet). Ayurveda approaches balance with a diet of whole, non-processed, unrefined foods and eating with the seasons according to your constitution. Additionally, it recommends Abhyanga (massage), which relieves stress and facilitates the movement of toxins towards elimination, along with yoga, meditation, and pranayama practices.

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