Why Are There Free Radicals in the Body?

7 minutes

Why Are There Free Radicals in the Body?

Vivoo Nutrition Team

In chemistry, many molecules have electrons that are paired. This means those electrons are not left to be on their own. There are some other molecules which are not paired. These molecules which are not paired are unstable because they are unpaired. As a result of this, they are constantly in search of molecules or atoms to bind themselves to so they can become stable. These unstable molecules are called radicals - free radicals

Because of the nature of these free radicals, they are also very reactive; they can donate an electron and also receive an electron. Hence, they can act as oxidants or act as reactants - this is simply a term that describes giving or taking electrons in chemical reactions. Free radicals react with other electrons and this reaction is generally termed oxidation. 

In the body, free radicals exist as well. They come off as by-products of the body when certain chemical reactions take place in the body which turns the food a person takes in into energy. The body needs this energy to do even the most basic of things. The body needs the energy to think, walk, talk, everything you can think of which your body does. This means no matter what happens, since the body must convert food to energy, free radicals must be given off. However, when these free radicals become too much, it can lead to a condition called oxidative stress

Another way free radicals exist in the body is when the body comes in contact with toxic environments like the smoke from tobacco, air pollution, radon and also from ultraviolet rays. We will get into detail about this. Free radicals do not stay for a long time in the human body, in fact, they only have a fraction of a second to exist but within that short time, they can damage a lot in the body. 

Free Radicals

Why are free radicals bad?

Free radicals are not exclusively bad, what your body needs is just a balance between free radicals and antioxidants. Anything outside of that is what is bad. 

Here is what happens - most electrons are stable, such that they are paired. This means they do not need to donate an electron or receive one. Free radicals are not that way, they are also reactive. This means that they need much energy before they can take any shape. With this, they have the capacity to destroy cells in the body. 

Cells in the body use oxygen to generate energy, when the food taken by the body has been broken down into energy for the body's use, free radicals are created. This free radical is created after ATP (adenosine triphosphate) has been produced by the mitochondria. When oxygen is in the body, it splits into atoms which have electrons that are not paired. 

Normally, electrons like to be paired but since this one is not paired, it goes around molecules searching for where it can be paired. If this happens, it can become dangerous for the body, DNA functions can be impaired which can lead to mutations. The membranes of cells can be destroyed and cells can be easily affected by pathogens and diseases. 

Free radical reactions are responsible for most diseases which involve a downward spiral and loss of function of organs and tissues. This is bad for the body. Aging has also been found out to be as a result of free radical activity in the body. Free radicals have a very short life span but in that short time, they can cause a lot of damage to the body. 

And this is where antioxidants come in. 

Antioxidants on the other hand can donate an electron without becoming unstable, unlike the free radicals. When they donate this electron, the free radical is no longer a free radical because it becomes stable and stops seeking an electron to bond to. With this, stability has been achieved and diseases are no longer in view. You can say that the antioxidant calms the free radical. 

When there is an imbalance between the antioxidants and free radicals, it leads to what is called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress triggers reactions which negatively affects the DNA and increases the risk of you having certain diseases. Oxidative stress follows suit with inflammation. Yes, inflammation is the body's way of responding to attacks on it, it is also behind many diseases. 

There are certain antioxidant rich foods, these foods help boost your immune system and keep you healthy. They prevent you from the harmful effects of free radicals. Although most of it depends on your lifestyle. You may need to incorporate a general lifestyle change to see results. 

Oxidative Stress

Where are free radicals found?

Of course, free radical activity does not just occur in the body from thin air, it has to have an origin. That is what I will share explicitly with you here. 

We can split this into two - Those found naturally (in the body) and those found externally (outside the body). 

Natural factors

For those found naturally, we have metabolic functions (metabolism) which has already been explained above - when the food taken by the body has been broken down into energy for the body's use, free radicals are created. This free radical is created after ATP (adenosine triphosphate) has been produced by the mitochondria. 


Free radicals in the body occur naturally when you’re exercising. So you might ask - since free radicals are bad for the most part, and they are released when you exercise then you should stop exercising? The answer is no. That is not what should happen. The beautiful thing is as long as you exercise regularly, antioxidant defenses are also built up so it checks out. It only becomes a problem if you only exercise once in a while


Stress on the human body is also where free radicals are found. During the events of stress, there is an increase in demand of energy which leads to an increase in the intake of oxygen needed for respiration. This causes free radicals to be released. 

Infection and inflammation 

If you have infection and inflammation in your body, these can also increase free radicals in the body. 

External factors

External factors, on the other hand, include - smoking, air pollution, pesticides, radiation, chemicals that emanate from industries, and even the ozone layer. 

You can take care of your body by exercising regularly, and your diet can also help fight free radicals. You can also get a free radical test kit to check your oxidative stress regularly.

What are the effects of free radicals on the body?

An imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants can lead to oxidative damage to cells, which is known as 'oxidative stress'. This damage can be caused by free radicals.

The consequences of oxidative stress vary and are not always negative. Physical activity-induced oxidative stress, for example, may have beneficial and regulatory effects on the body. 

Exercise promotes the formation of free radicals, which can result in temporary oxidative stress in the muscles. However, free radicals produced during physical activity regulate tissue growth and stimulate antioxidant production. 

Long-term oxidative stress, on the other hand, harms the body's cells, proteins, and DNA. This can hasten age and may play a role in developing various conditions.

How can you get rid of free radicals in the body?

Free radicals are a part of a natural process in your body that you cannot control. Therefore, you cannot entirely avoid them. Nevertheless, you may try your best to limit exposure and think about safety when you can't. 

Antioxidants can help your body combat free radicals. While your body produces antioxidants, it does not produce enough. For example, you can include certain fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants. You should also try to avoid stress, exercise regularly, stop smoking, and restrict your intake of processed meals, especially those heavy in sugar and fat.

Vivoo App is the perfect way to check your oxidative stress level from home! With Vivoo, you can take an oxidative stress test and check on other vital biomarkers like hydration, calcium, magnesium levels and more. Get real-time data on all aspects of your well-being in the comfort of your home!

Read also:

How Diet Fights Free Radicals

Teas With The Highest Antioxidants

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