We are all made up of atoms. Atoms that have a full outer shell of electrons tend to be stable and do not enter into chemical reactions with other atoms or molecules. Atoms that do not have a full outer shell of electrons desperately seek out electrons wherever they can so they can become stable and inert. These unstable atoms are called free radicals.
To seek stability, free radicals tend to try and steal an electron from whatever molecule happens to be nearby. In turn, the molecule that loses an electron to a free radical becomes unstable, and becomes a new free radical. As such, free radicals can be the cause of a never-ending chain reaction.
One of the more common types of free radicals are oxygen free radicals. These are oxygen atoms that are missing one or more electrons in their outer shell. Oxygen free radicals cause oxidation, both in the air and in our bodies. A slice of apple that turns brown or a piece of metal that rusts are examples of oxidation that we observe in our daily lives. Well, this type of oxidation also occurs inside our bodies because of the action of oxygen free radicals.
Free radicals are not evil or bad – in moderation. Our body performs many functions and there will always be some free radicals created. Free radicals are essential in the synthesis of energy and essential nutrients and are also involved in boosting our immune system.
However, if the level of free radicals gets too high in the body, one can run into major problems. Numerous diseases and health issues have been linked to high levels of free radicals.