Damaging Free Radicals and Super Hero Antioxidants

In cells, oxygen is constantly involved in chemical reactions in which electrons are shifted around. This is called oxidation. In an oxidation reaction, one atom or compound will steal electrons from another atom or compound. This process creates highly reactive, unstable, harmful particles known as free radicals.  Free radicals cause damage and many experts believe damage from free radicals is a factor in the development of  blood vessel disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and many chronic diseases. Free radicals can cause LDL cholesterol to oxidize, increasing cardiovascular risk. They can also damage genes in ways that contribute to the aging process. The damage to cells caused by free radicals, especially the damage to DNA, may play a role in the development of cancer and other health conditions.

We are exposed to free radicals through normal cellular processes, the effects of ultraviolet light and sun exposure, air pollution, trauma, excess heat, and smoking or when the body breaks down certain medicines. Our bodies also produce free radicals during exercise because we inhale more oxygen and use more energy and through by-products of normal processes that take place in your body (such as the burning of sugars for energy and the release of digestive enzymes to break down food). To generate energy, our cells remove electrons from sugars, fatty acids, and amino acids and add them to other molecules, especially oxygen. All this creates free radicals.

Antioxidants to the rescue. Antioxidants are the superheroes of the complex world of biochemistry because they provide an electron that the free radical is missing and neutralize it, ending the chain of destruction. Antioxidants thus protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. Antioxidants play a role in the management or prevention of some medical conditions and aging. 

It takes a variety of antioxidants and lots of them to help successfully deactivate the different kinds of free radicals. The body’s natural antioxidant defense system is partly fueled by the antioxidants we consume. Antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, lutein, lignan, lycopene, and other carotenoids, and selenium. In general, the best dietary sources of antioxidants are vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, seeds and other plant-derived foods.


Cherry, Cinnamon and Seeds Oatmeal


This recipe spotlights delicious Morello sour cherries that are packed with nutrition.

Beta carotene, linked with cancer prevention particularly lung cancer and reduction in the risk of heart disease. Beta carotene is converted by the body into vitamin A, a vitamin that prevents night blindness, needed for growth and cell development, maintains healthy skin, hair, and nails as well as gums, glands, bones, and teeth. May prevent lung cancer.

Pectin, a soluble fiber makes you feel full which may lessen appetite. Also, it lowers LDL cholesterol which helps reduce the risk of heart disease, regulates blood sugar which may reduce the onset risk or symptoms of metabolic syndrome and diabetes, and may cut the risk of colorectal cancer.

Quercetin, a flavonoid and antioxidant that may help avoid heart disease, lessen risk of cancer and coronary artery disease.

Potassium, which gives a helpful effect in lowering blood pressure. Also helps maintain fluid balance, and helps proper metabolism.

Vitamin C, vitamin that fortifies blood vessel walls, encourages wound curing, promotes iron absorption, helps avoid atherosclerosis, defends against cell damage by free radicals, may diminish risk of certain cancers, heart attacks, strokes, and other diseases. The anthocyanidins found in the cherries have anti-inflammatory properties.

Ceylon Cinnamon is also featured in this recipe. I recommend eating a half to one teaspoon a day of the true cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon, since it so health promoting. It  is anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antitumor, is cardiovascular-friendly, cholesterol-lowering, and has blood sugar regulating effects.  There are two main types of cinnamon: Ceylon cinnamon (also known as “true” cinnamon) and cassia cinnamon. If cinnamon isn’t labeled “Ceylon” you’re most likely eating a cheaper, less liver-safe cinnamon variety called cassia. It can be hard to find so I buy this one from Amazon.  

WARNING to those who are taking blood thinners. Cassia cinnamon contains high levels (0.45%) of natural chemicals called coumarin. When taking anti-coagulants, its important to avoid any products with coumarin. This interacts with blood thinners – especially warfarin (Coumadin) and increases the risk of bleeding. 

 ½ cup raw oats

1 cup milk or water

½ tbsp. Ceylon Cinnamon

1 tsp. brown sugar or honey

1 Tbs hemp seeds 

1 Tbs. pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup Morella Cherries (from Trader Joe’s) or Costco Frozen

cherriPrepare oatmeal as per package instructions. I like to do mine in a large glass microwave-safe bowl in the microwave. I use a too-large because cooking oats in the microwave in a too-small bowl can create the dreaded “volcano effect”.

Top with cinnamon, brown sugar, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds and cherries and enjoy!


Nutrition Facts
Servings 1.0
Amount Per Serving
calories 406
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 13 g 20 %
Saturated Fat 3 g 14 %
Monounsaturated Fat 2 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 5 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg 0 %
Sodium 4 mg 0 %
Potassium 23 mg 1 %
Total Carbohydrate 59 g 20 %
Dietary Fiber 8 g 33 %
Sugars 26 g
Protein 18 g 37 %
Vitamin A 1 %
Vitamin C 1 %
Calcium 2 %
Iron 23 %
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.

Unwanted Inflammation and How to Reduce It

A special thanks to my intern, Callie Parry for writing this article.

Our bodies are the vehicles in which we travel through life. We use them every day to move, explore, love and dance. Just like any vehicle our bodies can pick up unwanted passengers. That is why a system is in place for any possible situation. When these foreign invaders such as pathogens, irritants or damaged cells come in to our vehicle the immune response is initiated to remove these harmful passengers and begin the healing process. It is within the immune response that inflammation comes in to play. Inflammation, which is the immune response of body tissues to injury or infection, is an important component of immunity.

Nowadays the word inflammation seems to be plastered on every billboard and heard in any advertisement. Article after article is telling you what to do to reduce inflammation. It becomes overwhelming to tackle this problem, especially without knowing exactly what it is. In order to prevent something we need to know more about it. So what exactly is inflammation?

First and foremost inflammation is not innately bad. It is a natural biological response that is essential for our health. The problem comes when inflammation gets out of control. When it moves from acute inflammation to chronic inflammation. For example, when you fall down the stairs, like we all do sometimes, you may get a bruise or two. Bruises are signs of our immune system in action. The key indicators of inflammation are redness, heat, swelling and pain. A bruise is an outward manifestation of the body healing whatever tissues and cells that were damaged in the fall. This simple instance is an example of acute inflammation. Depending on the infection or irritant at play acute inflammation may last anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks.

Chronic inflammation is where we get in trouble. Our immune system is so eager to help us that it often goes overboard and can become self-perpetuating. Essentially, Inflammation comes about as a response to inflammation. It is almost as if the inflammation itself has become the foreigner the body is attacking. Chronic inflammation can last anywhere from a couple months to years.

You may be wondering how to know if you are a victim of chronic systemic inflammation. It’s a hard thing to detect because the signs of chronic inflammation are symptoms that are frequently attributed to a whole list of other problems and conditions. But I am going to give you a list of a few and if you are experiencing a large percentage of them you may want to consider talking with your physician about chronic inflammation.

The first sign is aches and pains. Our cells produce cytokines which are inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals cause muscle and joint pain by increasing the body’s sensitivity and stiffness. Next, fatigue. This is a hard one to attribute to inflammation because we all live such hectic lives that exhaustion seems to be just part of the equation. But if you are experiencing unexplained fatigue where you find it hard to just get through the day with adequate energy, then your body may be inflamed. When you have the cold or flu you tend to be tired, because your body, your immune system, is working overtime to fight the disease at hand. Fatigue results from chronic inflammation because it is constantly fighting the unwanted disruption. Irritated skin is another sign of chronic inflammation. This makes sense because the telltale signs of inflammation are redness and swelling. Also when your body is allergic to something you may get hives or a rash because your immune response is affecting you skin cells. If you have unexplained rashes, redness, or puffy skin, inflammation may be at the root. Finally excess weight or inability to lose weight is an inflammation indicator. Inflammation is exactly what it sounds like; inflamed, large. If you find you have a hard time losing weight or you tend to feel constantly bloated, it may be due to chronic inflammation blocking your system and inhibiting body functions. Also, immune cells can cause insulin resistance which inhibits weight loss. After hearing this list you may feel doomed. Don’t despair, the great thing about the body is it is excellent at self-regulating and fixing it self. Now that I told you some of the signs of inflammation, here are some simple things you can do or avoid or reduce inflammation in your life.

One’s diet can affect inflammatory responses within the body. None of us like to hear this because everyone seems to be telling us to eat this and not eat that. But let’s keep it simple. Avoid anything packaged. Packaged foods tend to have high amounts of simple sugars and unhealthful additives. Try to stick to a whole food diet. A Mediterranean dietary pattern, which has a high ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fats and omega-3 to omega 6 and supplies plenty of  fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, has shown anti-inflammatory effects when compared with typical North American and Northern European dietary patterns in most observational and interventional studies. The carotenoids, flavonoids, monounsaturated fat, high fiber, omega-3 fats and nuts in this type of diet pattern can reduce inflammation. Saturated fat, cholesterol, low fiber foods and high glycemic load foods have been shown to be pro-inflammatory (cause inflammation).  In this diet make sure you are getting adequate fluids throughout the day. Try finding a convenient water bottle you can carry around with you to remind you to drink more.

You may have heard that certain spices help with inflammation. This is true. These spices include ginger, turmeric and Ceylon cinnamon. Fortunately these spices taste great in stir-fries, roasted vegetables and soups. You could even try adding ginger to a granola recipe or mixing it in with your morning bowl of oats.

Another great remedy for inflammation is making sure you get adequate sleep. Recovery time is essential for your body to repair and restore itself. Six to eight hours per night is recommended so an average of 7 hours each night is ideal. You can work towards this by setting a time each night for yourself to go to bed.

Physical activity decrease  inflammation, as measured by reductions in CRP (a blood test biomarker for inflammation) and certain pro-inflammatory cytokines. Regular exercise is important in reducing one’s risk for obesity and chronic diseases associated with inflammation. However, excessive exercise can increase systemic inflammation. For example, overtraining syndrome in athletes is associated with systemic inflammation and suppressed immune function.

One last aid against chronic inflammation is yoga. Yoga is a great mental and physical practice that helps remove unwanted toxins from your body. The poses you move through help release blocks in your system. Also by managing stress your body is better able to keep up and clean up.

These are just a few of the ways to stop chronic inflammation in its tracks. Remember that inflammation is good as long as it is kept within a reasonable realm. Be aware of your body and mindful of how you feel. These pesky hitchhikers don’t have to remain in our vehicle for long. Take the necessary precautions to keep your mind and body clear and inflammation free.

Written By: Callie Parry, Intern

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Bruunsgaard H: Physical activity and modulation of systemic low-level inflammation. J Leukoc Biol 2005; 78(4): 819-35

Linus Pauling Institute