Free Radicals May Help the Heart (But Don’t Toss Your Antioxidants!)

Free Radicals - Heart HealthFree radicals might be a good thing?

At Natural Eye Care, we extol the benefits of antioxidants because they fight the free radicals that lead to oxidation, which in turn cause aging: skin changes such as the appearance wrinkles, and ocular changes, including the development of cataracts and macular degeneration.

Your eyes love antioxidants like those found in bilberry (a close relative to the blueberry) and in high quality supplements.

And yet, a new study published in The Journal of Physiology (online 28 February 2011) describes how free radicals are actually essential to the healthy functioning of the heart.

It is true that high levels of free radicals can lead to heart disease, but the heart does need some quantities of free radicals to help it deal with stressful situations.

As described at Medical News Today, when under stress, the nervous system produces what are called beta-adrenergic receptors.  These beta-adrenergic receptors actually produce free radicals not as a negative byproduct of metabolism (as we usually describe the process), but to make the muscles of the heart contract more strongly when necessary.  The heart is then able to pump more blood throughout the body to nourish and sustain us in stressful situations.

This is not to say that you should toss out your antioxidants, but it does remind us that the body is an amazing and complex creation that rarely allows us to use a one-size-fits-all approach to disease or nutrition.