Iron induced free radical activity, also called oxidative stress
As a chemical component of heme in hemoglobin iron is capable of carrying oxygen throughout the body. Behaving in this way, iron is a lifesaver. However, “free” or unbound iron can contribute to the development of free radicals (FR).
Free radicals (FR) are normal byproducts of human metabolism as oxygen is utilized. FRs are atoms or a group of atoms that have at least one unpaired electron. More stable and less reactive chemical structures as a rule have their electrons all paired to one another. Since this is not the case with free radicals, FRs are constantly on the hunt for that additional electron and are highly reactive with other chemicals in the body.
Programmed from its creation to find its missing part, the FR steals electrons from anywhere in the body to make up for its missing partner. The free radical can steal from any cell in any organ, which includes the heart, pancreas, brain, liver, joints, etc.
Free radicals can also change the structure of DNA. Once DNA is changed (altered, mutated), it is passed on in this mutated form for all future generations. The free radical doesn’t care about preserving a human cell or DNA, it only wants its missing part. Ravaged atoms within the cell are now also missing a part, which creates a chain reaction unleashing free radical activity. Examples of free radical damage or oxidation include rotting foods, rust that you might see on a car, lawn furniture or in your bathtub.
Often – as in the case of the oxidation of fats – this sets off chain reactions, with one radical causing the destruction of hundreds or thousands of previously normal molecules. Iron-triggered free radical activity can contribute to liver disease, pancreatic “burn out” (type II diabetes), joint disease, heart disease, neurological problems, and accelerate aging.
Antioxidants protect the body from free radical damage. An antioxidant donates or gives up the sought after electron to a free radical and renders it harmless. Our bodies contain antioxidants obtained from fresh fruits and vegetables in our diets. When our diets are high in animal fats and processed foods high in sugar especially in the presence of too much iron, we can have increased of free radical activity.
Lien Ai Pham-Huy, Hua He, Chuong Pham-Huy Free Radicals, Antioxidants in Disease and Health International Journal of Biomedical Science vol. 4 no. 2 June 2008