Oxidative metabolism isa chemical process in the body in which oxygen is used to make energy from carbohydrates (sugars). This process generates unstable molecular byproducts called reactive oxygen species (ROS),of which free radicals are part. Unstable as they are, free radicals are actually involved in many complex signaling functions that are essential to the human body’s overall health, such as regulating cell survival, cell death, cell differentiation, and inflammation. If left unchecked, however, the unstable nature of free radicals causes damage to the body’s cells and tissue, resulting in illness and aging. Antioxidants,a part of the body’s cellular defense system, are molecules that neutralize (stabilize) the free radical molecules and help keep the body in a balanced state of functioning (homeostasis). Oxidative stress is a condition in which the balance between free radical molecules and antioxidant molecules is thrown off track. Very simply put, free radicals start to build up in the body because there aren’t enough antioxidants around to stabilize them. This imbalance can result in significant cell damage throughout the body, which puts a strain on numerous bodily functions, including the body’s ability to fight off infection and chronic disease, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
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- Mittal M, Siddiqui MR, Tran K, Reddy SP, Malik AB. Reactive oxygen species in inflammation and tissue injury. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2014;20(7):1126-1167. doi:10.1089/ars.2012.5149