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Free radicals are everywhere, in the air, in our bodies, and in the materials around us. They cause the deterioration of plastics, the fading of paint, the degradation of works of art. They are also associated with age related illnesses, and can contribute to heart attacks, dementia, stroke and cancers, however their actual role in the development of these illnesses is still being investigated.

But free radicals are also useful, and we can’t live without them. Within our bodies they help important reactions take place e.g. our white blood cells use free radicals to destroy bacteria and virus-infected cells. Free radicals are also used to manufacture pharmaceuticals, custom-designed plastics and other innovative materials.

For the scientists among you, free radicals are molecules with unpaired electrons with a negative charge; in their quest to find another electron they are very reactive, causing ‘oxidative damage’ to surrounding molecules, and in so doing generate more free radicals, triggering a chain reaction of damage.

Antioxidants are molecules which can safely interact with free radicals and terminate the chain reaction of damage. Although there are several enzyme systems within the body which seek out and destroy free radicals, the principle micronutrient (vitamin) antioxidants are vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. Additionally, selenium, a trace metal that is required for proper function of one of the body’s antioxidant enzyme systems, is sometimes included in this category. The body cannot manufacture these micronutrients so they must be supplied in the diet.



In our bodies, free radicals are a by-product of a normal metabolic process called oxidation. This occurs in numerous bodily functions, including breathing. However, we produce additional free radicals when we are stressed, eat fatty foods, smoke, drink alcohol, and when we are exposed to environmental pollution, certain chemicals, and poisons such as herbicides. Of all the fats, polyunsaturated fats are the least stable and are the most susceptible to becoming rancid when exposed to heat, i.e. oxidizing and forming free radicals.



Antioxidants are naturally occurring molecules that either stop, or repair, the damage caused by free radicals. For example, Vitamin E (tocopherol), Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), Vitamin A, beta-carotene and selenium are important components of a healthy diet because they provide the chemical armoury to defend us against these damaging free radicals.

So, things that can cause oxidative damage should be avoided and things that protect us from oxidative damage should be consumed.

Scientists hope that eventually, we’ll be able to take a pill that specifically targets unwanted free radicals, but until then, we’re stuck with fighting them the old-fashioned way: regular exercise, no cigarettes, reduced alcohol, and a healthy diet with adequate vitamin and mineral intake.

Vitamin E: Found in nuts, seeds, vegetable and fish oils, whole grains (esp. wheat germ), fortified cereals, and apricots. Current recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 15 IU per day for men and 12 IU per day for women.

Vitamin C: Found in citrus fruits, green peppers, cabbage, spinach, broccoli, kale, cantaloupe, kiwi, and strawberries. The RDA is 60 mg per day.

Beta-carotene is converted to Vitamin A (retinol) and is present in liver, egg yolk, milk, butter, spinach, carrots, squash, broccoli, yams, tomato, cantaloupe, peaches, and grains. [NOTE: Vitamin A can be toxic in excess]. The RDA of Vitamin A is 0.8mg per day; there is no RDA for beta-carotene.

Selenium is found in nuts, cereals, meat, mushrooms, fish, and eggs with Brazil nuts being the richest ordinary dietary source. The RDA is 55 micrograms per day; Selenium is toxic if taken in excessive amounts.

Multi vitamin and multi mineral tablets

At The Fine Clinic we supply patients with multi-vitamin and multi-mineral tablets, made to our own formulation, to ensure adequate intake of all necessary vitamins and minerals during a weight loss course. However, these tablets are an excellent vitamin and mineral supplement for year round use and are now available for purchase, independent of a diet course, for £20 + p&p for 3 months supply. If you are not already taking a daily multi-vitamin and multi-mineral tablet, I strongly recommend that you consider doing so.