How Our Body Survives Attacks by Free Radicals

Attacks by free radicals on the body kill a person in 10 years more or less.
That happens to a person who is born without any defense against free radicals. This disease is called progeria.

How Our Body Survives Attacks by Free Radicals

By Conrado D. Fontanilla


Progeria is a disease caused by the complete absence of free radical scavenging enzymes. The victim becomes old very rapidly that a 10-year-old fellow is biologically an old one, who dies of “old age” when still a teenager (Cranton, E., MD. 1996. 2nd edition, page 99). The victim is bald, wrinkled, with sagging skin, afflicted with arthritis, among others. Before puberty she/he suffers from cardiovascular disease. Cranton mentioned two victims shown on television in 1983 when they visited Disneyland.

My first time to see a victim of progeria, a boy, was on television in 1977. The media could have ignored him since so many have been similarly afflicted around the world. But he gained media attention because of the fact that he was visited in the hospital by Miss Lizbeth de Padua, then the reigning Binibining Pilipinas Universe who competed in the Miss Universe pageant won by a lass from Israel who happened to be a fighter jet pilot.

Lizbeth’s interest in the progeria victim was not a media gimmick for she went on to take up doctor of medicine at the University of the Philippines Manila and specialized in neurology (study of the brain).

The boy could have been very pleased having been lavished with affection by a beautiful lady in those flitting moments of his short life. He could have been a 25-year-old man at that time as his biological age was drastically advanced by free radicals.

Nature of free radicals

“Free radicals can be atoms, ions, molecules, or fragments of molecules. The one thing they have in common is that they contain at least one electron that is ‘free’ – that is, not paired with another electron” (Pierce, J., Ph.D. Heart Healthy Magnesium, pages 93-95). This electron is unstable and highly reactive and to regain stability it “steals” another electron from a neighboring molecule. That neighbor is usually a cell wall, or cell membrane (with gates), or plasma, or a chromosome. As it steals an electron, it causes injury. That injury can lead to atheroma (benign tumor in the inside wall of arteries), plaque, heart disease, cancer, tumor, diabetes, arthritis, aging, hypertension, anemia, emphysema, cataract, skin disease, weak immune system, and many more.

“If one of the electrons in a pair becomes separated, an imbalance is created. That imbalance makes the resulting molecule (or atom) promiscuously unstable, violently reactive, and very destructive, ready to aggressively attack any nearby substance, setting off further free radical reactions with explosive cell destroying power….Just as outside of us oxygen produces rust on metal surfaces, so inside of us, unbalanced oxygen molecules ‘rust’ the body” (Cranton,  2nd edition). Examples of free radicals are superoxide, molecular oxygen and hydroxyl. Hydrogen peroxide (a reactive oxygen species) is not technically a free radical but behaves like one.

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