Bill Victor: Free radicals can hasten poor health



Every so often, we find ourselves hearing a word that has been so overused by the mainstream media that we become anesthetized to what it really means.

In fitness and health, we heard the term “core” so often in error that people either don’t know what it means, or erroneously are under the impression that it refers only to the stomach muscles.

There are others that join the list. Two of my favorites, which are frequently used but infrequently understood, are “antioxidants” and “free radicals.”

It’s easy to smirk, visualizing these two words to represent two political factions that require tear gas and riot squads; but that metaphor aside, in many ways, they behave just like these two political examples.

In an effort to better understand these terms, it’s best to understand that antioxidants and free radicals both occur in the human body and play opposing roles. Simply put, free radicals wreak havoc inside us, including accelerating the aging process, advancing or causing disease and allowing us to fall into poor health.

The superhero in the battle to build the healthiest body are antioxidants, which are supplied through good nutrition and supplements, both of which play the role of free radical slayer.

The cells of the human body are comprised of millions of atoms. Each atom has positively and negatively charged particles called protons and electrons moving in a defined orbit around those atoms. The predictable, consistent orbit of those electrons around the atoms comprising cells play a critical role in keeping the body in, for lack of a better word, a status quo state, or homeostasis, which means, “staying the same.”

The stability of those electrons is critical but not guaranteed. In fact, life events that include toxins (cigarette smoke, pesticides), poor diets, extreme weather conditions, and stress-induced hormones and chemicals can result in one of the predictable electrons going “rogue” — straying from its predictable orbit and attacking or destabilizing or stealing another electron orbiting steadily around another atom. This event is often called “oxidation” — similar to how the oxidation of metals creates rust.

There are times when these free radicals play a good-guy role in attacking bacteria; but in most cases, they create and accelerate disease states. Unfortunately, free radicals also increase with age.

This oxidation is battled by some of the powerful ingredients in a good diet, a term used with more and more frequency: antioxidants. Antioxidants are found in many different foods and in natural forms supplied by nature.

We hear with increased frequency various food and product companies boasting of the antioxidant ingredients in their product. The antioxidants provided naturally, especially in foods high in vitamins C and E, can play a key role in the destruction of free radicals; however antioxidants are not limited to these vitamins.

They do this by offering one of their own electrons and preventing the “electron robbing” that occurs with a free radical. More remarkable, however, is that these antioxidant electrons don’t become unstable (like their free radical, radicals) when they contribute one of their own electrons — another remarkable aspect to the function of the antioxidants.

Whether we like it or not, the body is undergoing oxidation on a daily basis. While the amount of antioxidants required to combat free radicals is arguably significant, our parents’ mantra of eating “all our fruits and vegetables” wasn’t that far off the mark, when it comes down to building a younger and healthier body.

Bill Victor is the owner of Victor Fitness System Professional Fitness Trainers, Flashpoint Athletic Speed & Agility Specialists, and Performance Nutrition Consultants. He can be reached at and online at and