The Free Radical Theory of Disease

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

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Here’s another excerpt from my 10th book, The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

Some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year are:
*Lose Weight
*Get in Shape
*Reduce Stress
*Get Healthier
*Win the Lottery

The Secret of Vigor can help you with 4 out of 5 of the most popular resolution goals, so I’ll be posting excerpts from the book for the next several weeks – so please stay tuned for each installment.

If you simply can’t wait, then you can certainly get a copy at or at your favorite library or bookstore.

The Free Radical Theory of Disease
As you’ve just learned, when your body’s own internal antioxidant defenses are overwhelmed by free radicals, damage may occur to DNA, proteins, and lipids in cell membranes (generally referred to as “lipid peroxidation”). Excessive free-radical production can come from air pollution, cigarette smoke, intense exercise, and even immune-system activity (because immune cells release superoxide, hydrogen peroxide, and nitric oxide as part of their “respiratory burst” to kill pathogens and clear out damaged cell material).

The most common free radicals in the body include superoxide (O2-), hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), hydroxyl radical (OH-), nitric oxide (NO-), and peroxyl radical (NOO-). Superoxide, the most reactive of the free radicals, is formed in the mitochondria of the cell during the normal passage of molecular oxygen through the electron transport chain during creation of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) for cellular energy. Superoxide is inactivated by the action of the cellular antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase, resulting in hydrogen peroxide. At this stage, it is still a free radical, but one with a lower potency. Hydrogen peroxide can be further converted into harmless water and oxygen by the activity of other cellular antioxidant enzymes, catalase, and glutathione peroxidase.

The free-radical theory of aging and disease promotion holds that through a gradual accumulation of microscopic damage to cell membranes, DNA, tissue structures, and enzyme systems, people begin to lose function and are predisposed to disease—not to mention a loss of vigor.

In response to free-radical exposure, the body increases its production of its own natural ‘endogenous’ antioxidant enzymes (such as glutathione peroxidase, catalase, and superoxide dismutase). But it has been theorized that, in some situations, it may be necessary to supplement the dietary intake of antioxidants to help bolster the body’s defenses and prevent excessive oxidative damage to muscles, mitochondria, lungs, and other tissues—especially during or following intense exercise and exposure to pollutants, such as secondhand smoke or oxidizing radiation from sunlight.

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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