Free Radicals, Antioxidants, and Oxidative Stress – Good or Evil?


Let’s face it.  All this hype and attention on the secrets of aging, what exactly is it and how does it affect everyday people like us?


Put it simply, free radicals are highly reactive molecules produced as part of a normally functioning human being.  We use energy every day to think, eat, work, sleep and do what we do, and while forming and burning that energy our body also makes waste, with free radicals being one of them.  Left alone, free radicals can destroy cells very quickly by reacting with nearby molecules, causing cells to lose their function and die.  Thankfully our body has clever mechanisms to destroy them before they do the same to us.  Antioxidants are one of those mechanisms.

When we produce more free radicals than we can destroy, scientists call that “oxidative stress”.  Exercise, for example, drives the body into oxidative stress, as well as being overworked, tired, or sick.  It is popular belief that taking antioxidants can help us reduce oxidative stress.  So the theory goes: Oxidative stress causes aging because free radicals kill nearby cells prematurely.  Wait, did I hear you question, does that mean exercise is bad for you?


That’s exactly what the scientists thought.  They did some more experiments and found that, in fact, free radicals are good for you!  The worms in the labs are able to survive and reproduce with better conditions if they were exposed to artificial free radicals than if they didn’t (this particular type of worm does not produce its own free radicals).  So now the scientists say, let the free radicals reign!

Still there are others critical of this conclusion.  Maybe the better lives that these worms lived was not directly from the exposure to free radicals, but as a result of their system adapting to being more efficient at removing them.  Those supporting this view think that it is more important to improve the free-radical-destroying mechanisms than it is to be under oxidative stress.

What does all this mean for us?  To be honest, nothing really.  Just keep exercising like you should and relax when needed.  Let science do the work.  For now, keep calm and read our posts!


– Freak



Yee, C., Yang, W., Hekimi, S. (2014). The intrinsic apoptosis pathway mediates the pro-longevity response to mitochondrial ROS in c. elegans. Cell, 157(4), 897-909. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2014.02.055

Hancock, J.T. (2010). Cell Signalling, 3rd Ed. NY: Oxford University Press.

Liochev, S.I. (2013). Reactive oxygen species and the free radical theory of aging. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 60, 1-4.

Lobo, Patil, Phatak & Chandra (2010). Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacognition Review. Retrieved from


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