Alzheimer’s and free radicals: what’s the link?

March 5, 2018 6:42 am Published by 1 Comment

Free radicals are naturally occurring, unstable molecules in our bodies. They damage our cells, cause a number of diseases and accelerate the aging process. Their production, and their impact, can be limited by efforts to live a healthier lifestyle – but unfortunately, the reverse is also true: unhealthy lifestyles can increase the production of free radicals and enhance their effects.

What's the link between Alzheimer's and free radicals?

Free radicals are naturally occurring unstable molecules

Free radicals have been linked to just about every disease and degenerative condition you can list. From Alzheimer’s to wrinkles, they’re the enemies within us all! As unstable molecules, they seek other atoms or molecules with which to bond, beginning a process called ‘oxidative stress’ (or ‘oxidation’). This leads to the breakdown of our cells and to general degeneration.

We thought we’d take a look at one particular condition – Alzheimer’s – and examine the role free radicals are thought to play in it.

Free radicals and Alzheimer’s: what’s the link?

Alzheimer’s is a disease that causes dementia – it accounts for two-thirds of the dementias diagnosed amongst older people. When the brain is damaged by Alzheimer’s, people experience memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving and language.

There’s increasing evidence that the oxidative damage caused by free radicals may play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s. Human brains have a high level of fatty acids, which are readily oxidised. Our brains also use a great deal of oxygen themselves and have low levels of antioxidants. The result is that they’re particularly sensitive to oxidative damage.

There's increasing evidence that free radicals play a role in the development of Alzheimer's

Damage to the brain caused by Alzheimer’s, shown on the right

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Medical Center compared brain tissue from people who had died of Alzheimer’s disease with people who had not. Those who had died of Alzheimer’s were found to have roughly double the amount of free radical damage in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain – the parts most critical for memory and intellectual function. Further studies have indicated similar damage to tissue in people still living with the disease.

Combating free radicals

The world continues to search for a cure for Alzheimer’s; research into the effects of free radicals is only part of a much more complicated picture. Nevertheless, it’s clear that whether you’re hoping to ward off a disease, or living with the effects of one, it’s a good idea to do what you can to limit the impact of free radicals.

How? In a nutshell – through the use of antioxidants, which limit oxidative damage. These aren’t drugs, but are elements found naturally in our food. Over the course of this week, we’ll be looking at antioxidants and exploring how to get more of them into our diets. Like many of our customers, we feel that food really is the best medicine, and the thing that gives us the best chance of long and healthy lives.

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This post was written by Yzanne

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