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What Causes Free Radicals?

Free radicals are a byproduct of energy consumption in our mitochondria, the factories that produce energy in each of our cells. As we breathe, we can’t help but make some free radicals, but many other factors in our lifestyle and environment can also contribute to their production, like:

Eating too many calories, sugars and/or excessive carbohydrates causing hyperglycemia. When we eat more, our mitochondria releases more “exhaust,” creating higher levels of free radicals as they burn fuel from food for energy.

Excessive alcohol consumption increases our levels of cytokines, inflammatory molecules that are linked to oxidative stress.

Exposure to tobacco smoke as it contains more than 4,000 toxic chemicals that lead to oxidative stress.

Exposure to air pollutants. Allergens and industrial pollution increase oxidation in our bodies.

Excessive stress increases the stress hormone cortisol and in turn will increase inflammation, which further increases free radical production.

Ionizing radiation. Exposure to excessive sun, x-rays, radon and airplane flights, can contribute to oxidative stress.

Charbroiled foods contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which can contribute to oxidative stress.

Environmental molds (like those in bathrooms and basements) and internal molds and fungi (those related to your gut) can produce toxins that increase oxidative stress.

When the liver becomes overwhelmed with toxins from food (sugar) or the environment (pesticides or mercury), it becomes inflamed and produces more free radicals.

Chronic infections. Dental infections and chlamydia can cause hidden infections that contribute to oxidative stress.

Lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation increases oxidation. We should aim for 8-10 hours of sleep each night. You can’t catch up on sleep.

Excessive exercise also causes free radicals. Stop exercising before you have to, it should be enjoyable.


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Terry is happy to provide his opinion on diet and nutrition, supplements and lifestyle choices. This information is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to replace the advice of your physician and is not to be considered medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Should you have any concerns please contact your physician directly.
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