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Natural Awakenings New York City

Free Radicals and Our Health

We can’t avoid them, but we can mitigate their effects with proper nutrition.

By Franklin St. John

Almost any human activity results in the formation of free radicals in the body. In addition, there are many outside things that, when they enter our bodies, can cause free radicals to form there.

Why are those facts significant to our health? Let me start out by explaining what a free radical is. 

If you’ve taken a chemistry class, you may already understand that a free radical is an atom or compound that’s missing an electron in its outer shell. Electrons like to be paired up, so atoms that need to complete their outer shells will do so by “mating.” For instance, sodium (Na) has one electron in its outer shell, but it wants two. Chlorine (Cl) has seven electrons in its outer shell, but it wants eight. So when Cl comes in contact with Na, they “mate” to form NaCl—sodium chloride, or ordinary table salt. Inside the body, however, free radicals end up scavenging for electrons—damaging our cells, our proteins and our DNA along the way.

Since any physiological process can produce free radicals, there probably was never a time when free radicals weren’t forming in our bodies. We can neutralize them by eating lots of fruits and vegetables; that’s all well and good. But with the pollutants in the air we breathe, the chemicals we ingest when we eat processed food, our overexposure to the sun, and the physically punishing activities we engage in, from hard labor to contact sports, we still have the potential for severe health problems. (I often wonder whether the constant pounding and abuse football players’ bodies must withstand has something to do with the health problems those players sometimes encounter later in life.)

Healthy Supplements

There is no doubt that eating properly is the key to good health, but that’s easier said than done. If we sometimes fail in our quest to eat properly, daily supplements can be part of the answer.

By having green tea concentrate in water several times a day, we reap two benefits: One, we’re drinking water, and two, we’re adding ever-important polyphenols to our diet. A lot has been written about the health benefits of polyphenols. They’ve been shown to help prevent dangerous conditions like cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. (I recommend that you look up green tea polyphenols and read about their documented health benefits. If you look it up yourself, what you learn will be more meaningful to you than just having me recite the benefits.)

While polyphenols are among the most potent antioxidants we can take for fighting free radical damage in the body, there are other effective antioxidants too, such as those found in many fruits. The problem with eating fruit to fight free radicals is that we would have to eat so much of it that we couldn’t keep up with our bodies’ need. That’s why supplements, including certain concentrates, are an important tool for maintaining good health.

Ultimately, we are in charge of our own bodies, and so we should learn as much as we can about protecting them and our good health.

Franklin St. John, doctor of Chinese medicine and founder of HerbaSway Laboratories, was taught traditional Chinese herbal medicine by a Taoist master from the mountains of China. For more information about HerbaSway products, call 1.800.672.7322 or visit