What Are Free Radicals & How Do They Affect Your Body?

Free radicals are produced as a by-product of many cellular reactions. They are kept in check by our body's natural supply of antioxidants, such as Co-enzyme Q10.

free radicals

Where there's fire, there's smoke.

Our bodies are made up of over 37 trillion cells. Each cell is composed of molecules which are comprised of one or more atoms, joined by chemical bonds. Within every cell in our body, throughout every second of the day, biochemical reactions are taking place. Many of these reactions involve the transfer of electrons from one atom to another. And all of these reactions are essential to life: they enable each cell to perfectly perform the job it has been tasked with - like, helping our heart pump, our liver to detoxify, or our brain to send neurological signals.

One of the most important reactions is cellular respiration, which is the term for the cell's energy production process. Cellular respiration happens deep within the mitochondria, the power plants of the cell. Cellular respiration uses several molecules, including carbon atoms from the food we eat and oxygen from the air we breathe, to make a substance called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, which is the major fuel source of the cell and therefore, our organs and tissues.

However, this life-essential process generates waste products called free radicals. In a way, free radicals are like the polluting exhaust generated by an engine that is burning fuel. Free radicals are commonly oxygen or nitrogen atoms with an unpaired electron in their outer shell. They are very unstable and move quickly to steal their missing electron from the closest stable molecule in its vicinity and in doing so, damage its molecular structure; the process is like the corrosive reaction which produces rust, although in this case, the impact may be with a fat or protein molecule, or even a strand of DNA.

Although free radicals have some important functions when present in the right place, with the right numbers, they can cause severe damage to DNA, cell membranes, and other parts of cells if overproduction occurs and the delicate cell equipment is harmed. So, preventing free radical damage is an important aspect of our ongoing health and vitality. However, many variables can contrive to make this a constant challenge: higher than normal levels of free radicals can be driven by environmental toxins, such as UV radiation, pollution and cigarette smoke and in addition, diets deficient in certain vitamins or minerals, or high in trans fats and sugar, also stimulate excessive free radical production.

They might be free, but they can be costly

Because they are at the core of the energy production process, mitochondria are responsible for 90 – 95% of the free radicals in our cells and as a result, are 10 times more exposed to free radicals than any other part of the cell. Mitochondria work hard to neutralize free radicals and keep them confined within, preventing them from escaping into the cell and creating problems. But over time, because of the constant free radical exposure, mitochondria start to suffer wear and tear.

Damage inflicted on mitochondria can be enough to kill them, but usually, only does enough to disrupt their normal function. If the mitochondrial membrane is disrupted, it is less effective at containing free radicals, meaning that some may leak into the cell. Free radicals left unchecked can inflict severe damage on whatever cellular component they encounter – like the fat molecule, the protein molecule, or the DNA strand we mentioned earlier. And to make matters worse, impaired mitochondria send incorrect messages, decrease energy production and produce more free radicals.

Initially, the consequences of mitochondrial impairment may be minimal, but because mitochondria can self-replicate; defective mitochondria can end up making more defective mitochondria. There is an accumulative effect and gradually, symptoms start to become more apparent. We don't notice at first, but over time, we start to have less energy; we don't recover as quickly from injury or illness; our organs age; and we start to look and feel older.

Reducing the risk of oxidative stress should be a top priority for an effective health strategy.

But don't shoot the messenger

The challenge is not to eliminate free radicals entirely, but to get the right balance of free radicals, so they can contribute positively to cellular activity. It is when free radical levels are too high, that we shift into a state of oxidative stress.

Antioxidants: the body's natural rustproofing solution.

Normally, the body counteracts free radical production with its own supply of antioxidants, and the cascade of electron-stealing can be controlled before it causes major disruption to the cell.

Antioxidants are scavengers that target free radicals and give them their missing electron, turning them back into stable atoms. This prevents free radical damage to other molecules within the cell; as such, antioxidants represent a natural rust proofing agent.

Mitochondria produce one of the most important home-grown antioxidants, called Coenzyme Q10 (more commonly known as CoQ10), which they use to line the mitochondrial membrane, giving it a secure, defensive barrier, which neutralizes free radicals, helping to protect essential energy production and prevent free radicals from escaping in the main body of the cell.

As previously explained, as we age, the daily grind starts to wear down the mitochondria; and when mitochondria are stressed, they underperform. And as we now know, rogue free radicals are something we want to keep a lid on.

Sustain the level of antioxidant protection and limit free radical damage at the source.

It should come as no surprise that all the components of a healthy lifestyle – a good diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep – will certainly provide an environment in which your mitochondria can thrive. And when your mitochondria are finely- tuned, CoQ10 antioxidant production is optimized.

But it's important to note that even if you look after your mitochondria through a healthy diet and regular exercise, they still decline naturally as you age. That is why, along with embracing a healthy lifestyle, antioxidant supplementation that boosts your mitochondrial performance and does not interfere with free-radical signaling, is the very best strategy to help you maintain energy levels, support your cells and support optimal well-being.

Give your mitochondria the support they need, right where they need it.

The world is waking up to the importance of the mighty mitochondria; there is growing awareness of how critical they are for life - therefore, we need to look after them as much as possible.

MitoQ is a breakthrough, mitochondria-targeted CoQ10 antioxidant, which is absorbed directly into the body of the mitochondria, hundreds of times more effective than other CoQ10 supplements, where it is used to line the mitochondrial wall, helping to support its structural integrity and neutralize the free radicals that accumulate within. The unique properties of MitoQ also help to ensure that the important free radical signaling is not impaired.

MitoQ is one of the most-studied mitochondrial-targeted CoQ10 antioxidants. Research has shown that after oral administration, MitoQ rapidly accumulates in mitochondria-rich tissue such as the heart, brain, skeletal muscle, liver and kidney, helping to guard against oxidative stress and help maintain healthy function and performance.

MitoQ is a world-first, mitochondria-rejuvenating CoQ10 antioxidant.

Learn more about MitoQ

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