Free Radicals Bringing more understanding to one of the vilest skin adversaries in history - the free radical.

Free radicals, and life, are all about chemical reactions. Chemical reactions involve electrons. An atom will have positively charged protons in the nucleus, and an equal number of electrons organized in shells (in pairs) around the nucleus. When the outer shell is filled with electrons, the atom is stable, and it doesn't get into chemical reactions. If that state is disrupted, the atom will do its utmost to become stable again. This will be achieved by either gaining or losing an electron with the goal of either filling or emptying the outer shell, or sharing the electrons by bonding together with other atoms in order to complete that outer shell.

A free radical is a matter in which chemical bonds have split and left molecules with odd, unpaired electrons. Since the condition of an odd electron is unfavourable, they react with nearest compounds, trying to gain the needed electron.

The loss of electrons is called oxidation (and it doesn't necessarily involve Oxygen). There are many ways in which oxidation happens in nature, including human bodies, but one of them is losing electrons to free radicals. Free radicals don't form only in the body, they happen in the outside world as well. Free radicals are a fact of life - they occur during metabolism (which consists of a myriad of chemical reactions), they are useful and important in some biological reactions, including immune system response to viruses and bacteria, there are also free radicals that are stable.

However, since most free radicals are reactive, they can participate in side reactions resulting in cell damage. The cumulative effect of wear and tear that free radicals have on the human body over a course of years is considered to be the main factor in aging. Even further, the free radicals are considered the main culprits in cancer, arthritis, atherosclerosis, to name just a few diseases. The Free Radical Theory of Aging has a lot of data to support it, and a lot of believers in it, but it is still considered only one of the theories. Whether it is a primary reason for aging or not, it is not the only one.

Normally, the body handles free radicals through antioxidants. Antioxidants as well as enzymes provide the needed electron to free radicals without themselves becoming a threat to the cell. For this, antioxidants need to be present at the site where free radicals are produced, in order to take care of them and prevent damage that they might impart.

Diet rich in antioxidants (fruit and vegetables) is recommended as much for growing organisms as for longevity. Supplements of antioxidants, skin care products with antioxidants, are all aimed at reducing the damaging effect, and helping the body, or the skin, protect itself. It is impossible to follow and establish clearly the benefits of any of these, since every organism is different and conditions surrounding that organism varied. However, even if the free radicals are not guilty of everything they are charged with (except the lack of an electron), they still can and do contribute to the deterioration of the living cells. Reducing their effect can only be beneficial.

That still doesn't mean that bombastic phrases used to promote antioxidants as local militia fighting the scourge of the living are to be taken literally. Any benefits are appreciated, and that's plenty

Ivana K.

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