What are free radicals



FREE RADICALS

From time to time, we can find atoms which have an unpaired electron. This means that they have one electron more or one electron less than a normal atom of the same kind. That is what we call a free radical. Those atoms are highly reactive. This means they will try to pair that spare electron, no matter what the cost. During that process, a free radical will damage other molecules. This process is called oxidation. During this process, the fundamental structure of molecules, cells and even DNA is altered. Over time, this will lead to the breakdown of the attacked cell.



HOW ARE FREE RADICALS FORMED?

Free radicals are formed when a molecule breaks into two single atoms, leaving each with only one electron. There are many types of free radicals, but the most common type is formed from oxygen molecules, also known as Reactive oxygen species (ROS).

Oxygen is one of the essential elements for all living creatures, and every cell in our body requires it for its metabolism. Cells use oxygen to convert our energy intake (food) into a form of energy useable for the body. This is done by cells called mitochondria. From time to time, those mitochondria make mistakes in the energy production. At that point, by accident, a free radical is formed.

This is not the only source of free radicals. They can also be generated during inflammation, stress (also heat stress), illness and aging. Hazardous environmental sources such as pollution, heavy metals, mycotoxins, radiation, antibiotics but also just the air we breathe every day contain free radicals or induce the production of free radicals.



HOW ARE FREE RADICALS FORMED?

Free radicals are formed when a molecule breaks into two single atoms, leaving each with only one electron. There are many types of free radicals, but the most common type is formed from oxygen molecules, also known as Reactive oxygen species (ROS).

Oxygen is one of the essential elements for all living creatures, and every cell in our body requires it for its metabolism. Cells use oxygen to convert our energy intake (food) into a form of energy useable for the body. This is done by cells called mitochondria. From time to time, those mitochondria make mistakes in the energy production. At that point, by accident, a free radical is formed.

This is not the only source of free radicals. They can also be generated during inflammation, stress (also heat stress), illness and aging. Hazardous environmental sources such as pollution, heavy metals, mycotoxins, radiation, antibiotics but also just the air we breathe every day contain free radicals or induce the production of free radicals.



ARE FREE RADICALS ALWAYS BAD?

No, free radicals, in a lower concentration, can be beneficial for the body. They are part of the immune system and will be used as a first line of defence by the body. However, those free radicals are a nonspecific type of defence, which means they cannot make the distinction between body own cells and the cells they are meant to attack. This will induce inflammation of the surrounding tissues.



WHAT CAN WE DO AGAINST FREE RADICALS?

Living creatures have their own system to keep the free radical concentration in balance. They produce antioxidants, molecules which are able to neutralize free radicals without inducing damage. Vitamin C and vitamin E are examples of those antioxidants. However, whenever the body is in unbalance (stress, disease, high production status or old age), the concentration of antioxidants, produced by the body, will not be sufficient to cope with all the free radicals and the body will come in unbalance.

References and for more information:

Fang, Y-Z., Yang, S. & Wu, G. (2002). Free radicals, antioxidants and nutrition. Nutrition: 18: 872-879.

Surai, P.F. Natural antioxidants in Poultry Nutrition: New developments. 16th European Symposium on Poultry nutrition

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Mercordi Animal Care : What are free radicals
What are free radicals
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