Free Radical Damage

Free Radical Damage

Free radicals are molecules that are unstable or volatile, and consequently have the capacity to damage tissues that they come into contact with. Free radical damage to cells and the structures they form is believed to contribute to the development of many of the chronic diseases associated with ageing. Antioxidants are compounds that restore balance to free radicals, making them more stable, and limiting the damage they cause.


  • Free radical damage occurs at a cellular level, and may not be detectable until damage has progressed significantly. Amongst others, examples of conditions associated with free radical damage include:
  • Atherosclerosis, in which oxidation of Cholesterol molecules makes them more prone to forming plaque in the arteries, thus increasing the risk of heart attack and Circulatory Problems
  • Age-related Macular Degeneration, cataract and other eye problems, in which free radical damage to the blood vessels of the eyes leads to progressive vision problems
  • Diabetes and Blood Sugar problems, which predispose the body to free radical damage, increasing the risk of complications associated with the disease
  • Some forms of cancer. For example, lung cancer is considered at least partly due to the free radical damage that cigarette smoking or exposure to industrial pollutants causes to the mucous membranes lining the respiratory tract, some skin cancers are linked to UV-induced free radical damage to the skin
  • Ageing and wrinkling of the skin is also partly related to free radical damage, and tends to be more significant in people who have smoked, sunbaked or otherwise had a high free radical load
  • Poor sperm health


  • Free radical activity is a normal aspect of physiology, occurring as the natural consequence of many of the body's processes, especially those involving oxygen
  • Additional free radical activity may be generated through exposure to toxic compounds (e.g. cigarette smoke, pollutants, drugs), strenuous physical activity, Stress, the consumption of unhealthy fats (e.g. trans fats and saturated fats) and sun exposure
  • The balance of free radicals and antioxidants may become disturbed if dietary consumption of antioxidant-rich foods is inadequate. Deficiencies of key nutrients, such as vitamins C and E, zinc and selenium, carotenoids and flavonoids may all increase free radical damage

Nutritional & Herbal Support

  • Important antioxidant nutrients and co-factors include betacarotene, vitamins C and E, the minerals zinc and selenium, and alpha-lipoic acid. Taking an antioxidant supplement that combines these nutrients may help to reduce free radical damage in the body due to Stress, poor diet and environmental pollutants
  • Smoking depletes vitamin C and smokers require greater quantities of this important nutrient
  • Other dietary antioxidants include:
  • Lycopene (found in tomatoes and other red-coloured fruit and vegetables), which has a protective effect on Heart Health and the functioning of the prostate
  • Anthocyanosides, found in bilberries and other blue-purple coloured fruit, which help to protect the blood vessels of the eyes
  • Co-enzyme Q10, which helps to maintain Heart Health, inhibits the oxidation of Cholesterol, and supports healthy blood pressure
  • Herbal medicines with antioxidant properties include:
  • Grape seed, which supports the health of the capillaries and other blood vessels, and improves Circulatory Problems
  • Resveratrol, (derived from the herb knotweed and also found in red wine) which has potent antioxidant properties in the blood vessels, where it helps protect Cholesterol molecules from free radical damage and inhibit the formation of atherosclerotic plaque
  • Green tea, which have potent antioxidant effects throughout the body
  • Olive leaf and hawthorn, which have specific antioxidant benefits for Heart HealthMilk thistle, which has antioxidant effects on liver cells, helping to protect them from toxins and free radical damage

Diet & Lifestyle advice

  • Include plenty of nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables in your diet to ensure that you are consuming a wide variety of antioxidants
  • Adopting a Mediterranean-style diet, rich in olive oil, vegetables, legumes, seafood and fruit, and including small to moderate quantities of red wine is an enjoyable way to have an antioxidant-rich, Heart Healthy diet
  • Avoid saturated fats (e.g. from animal products), deep-fried foods and trans fats (found in some margarines, baked goods and other pre-prepared foods)
  • Restrict your alcohol consumption to a maximum of 1-2 serves per day, preferably of red wine, which is rich in antioxidants. Don't binge drink
  • Don't smoke or take recreational drugs - they generate free radicals
  • Take steps to manage your Stress levels. Learning and practicing meditation or relaxation techniques may be beneficial
  • Avoid dust, fumes and pollution, and always use appropriate protection if you are exposed to airborne pollutants at home or work
  • Protect your eyes from glare by wearing UV-rated sunglasses when outdoors

If symptoms persist consult your healthcare professional. Information provided is of a general nature and should not replace that of your healthcare professional.

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