When you're trying to optimize your wellbeing, guarding against illnesses, regular medical check-ups and staying fit with exercise are all essential to your routine. But do you also know why and how to strengthen your body on a molecular level? According to many health experts and researchers, free radicals can be an invisible threat that we should act consciously to keep in balance.
Free radicals are formed as a natural byproduct of our metabolism—or, more specifically, of cellular respiration. Because these highly reactive oxygen compounds are missing an electron, they may steal from intact molecules of the cell membrane, proteins or DNA. This process occurs in our bodies hundreds of thousands of times. It is estimated that each of our bodies’ 70 trillion cells is robbed by free radicals up to 10,000 times every day. In the eyes of many experts, this process is one of the causes of human aging.
In a healthy physiological system, damage caused by free radicals is repaired right away. It’s when free radicals outpace our bodies’ ability to neutralize them that the risk of conditions like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's and heart disease increase. Especially in Western developed cultures, lifestyle factors are a growing source of oxidative stress. A trend toward overeating that continuously stimulates our cells' metabolism, mental stress, less nutritious diets, alcohol, medication, and lack of sunlight all accelerate free radical production.
Fortunately, there are ways to ease the effect of these reactive molecules. You can, for example, increase your supply of healthy antioxidants through your diet. Antioxidants are often referred to as “free radical scavengers” because they feed electrons to the free radicals and, thus, hinder damageto the body's own cells. Some effective antioxidants are vitamins C and E, minerals (e.g. iron and zinc), or phytonutrients such as beta-carotene.
In addition to diet, sleep also helps alleviate the stress of free radicals. One reason is that sleeping slows down our metabolism, so less free radicals are formed during this time. Another reason is that the brain produces melatonin at night—studies have shown that this hormone has an antioxidant effect. So, remember to prioritize quality sleep as part of your health regimen to help defend against sickness and aging—now that’s a good reason to stick to your bedtime!