Science of Food: How free radicals affect the laboratory of the human body

Lisa Julian
Science of Food
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Want to learn more?

What: “Eat Your Electrons,” a small-group workshop with Lisa Julian, Ph.D.

When: 2:30-4 p.m. Saturday, June 13

Where: Elevated Yoga & Holistic Health, 310 E. Main St., Frisco

Cost: $20 with advanced registration

More information: Call (970) 401-2071 to reserve a seat, or visit to learn more

Editor’s note: Science of Food is a new monthly column about biomolecules and their application to food and health.

Our bodies are like laboratories, big reaction vessels where the basic principles of organic chemistry apply: A plus B goes to C; reactants go to products. Except in the body, there are literally millions of “A” reactants (biomolecules such as proteins and DNA) to consider. Couple that with the thousands of “B” reactants (present in the food we intake), and the system becomes exceedingly complicated. Thus, it is my attempt here to deconstruct the “science of food.”

Back to proteins: Proteins are little machines created from our unique code of DNA that carry out all of the functions in our bodies. They have diverse jobs ranging from transporting oxygen (hemoglobin) or cholesterol (LDL, or low-density lipoprotein) to mediating pain (cannabinoid receptors) to regulating cell division and replication. If our DNA changes or mutates somehow, as it naturally does over time via oxidation, then this eventually results in a different set of proteins that are unable to carry out their required function to keep us healthy. One example of this is cancer, where one of the proteins involved in cell replication becomes mutated, and the cell then divides uncontrollably.

DNA mutates in the presence of free radicals. A free radical is just an unpaired electron, a negatively charged subatomic particle present in every atom. These tiny particles, when left on their own without others to pair with or protons to neutralize them, wreck havoc on our bodies. The oxygen we breathe creates some free radicals, causing our natural aging process, but things such as pesticides and high ultraviolet or radiation exposure create lots more of these unpaired electrons in the body. Additional free radicals can be generated by stress and inflammation.

Once formed, the highly-reactive electron can steal another electron from our DNA or other biomolecules. This process of losing an electron is formally called “oxidation,” and the result can lead to mutated DNA, mutated proteins and, ultimately, over time, manifestation of disease, especially cancer.

So how can we slow this destructive process? Limit exposure to toxins, processed inflammatory foods, stress and too much sun in order to reduce the initial generation of free radicals, or, to counteract oxidation, eat more electrons by consuming foods high in antioxidants. Other terms for antioxidant that you may have heard include polyphenol, flavonoid and phytochemical, which are all sources of electrons.

All plants are rich in antioxidants, especially leafy greens, vegetables, berries and red wine. If you fill up on electrons contained in antioxidant-rich foods, the free radicals give up their role of attacking and oxidizing your DNA and instead are quenched, A plus B goes to C. Mutations are prevented, your DNA is healed and cancer is kept at bay. Preventing disease and simply feeling good begins with a diet rich in antioxidants to promote youthfulness, vitality and whole-body health. So, please eat your electrons, as many as you like, from the source of your choice!

Lisa Julian, Ph.D., has a passion for organic chemistry — the “molecules of life” — and its application to food and health. She’s the owner of Elevated Yoga & Holistic Health in Frisco and teaches science and nutrition at the University of Colorado Denver and Colorado Mountain College. She can be reached at (970) 401-2071 or For more information about services offered at her studio, visit

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