A free radical scavenger is a vitamin, mineral, or enzyme that is able to destroy free radicals. The term "free radical" refers to a molecule that has one or more unpaired electrons. This makes them very unstable, and they move through the bloodstream, taking electrons from other cells or giving away unpaired ones. By doing so, free radicals cause cell damage that has been linked to a host of diseases including heart disease and cancer. The role of the free radical scavenger is to hunt down these unstable molecules and destroy them before they can cause significant cell damage within the body.
The free radical scavenger is often referred to as an antioxidant. They are generally found in certain foods, primarily dark colored fruits and vegetables like blueberries. These scavengers work by preventing the oxidation process that is required in order for electrons to be passed from one cell to another. The free radical scavenger removes the cells or prevents them from oxidizing simply by being oxidized itself within a close proximity. A body without enough free radical scavengers is at greater risk for housing free radicals and for developing serious diseases later in life.
Every body has free radicals. They are a natural part of life, although some people have more than others. Factors like being overweight or smoking cigarettes may put a person at higher risk for having large numbers of free radicals. In a normal body, these unstable cells are destroyed by the immune system via white blood cells. However, the average immune system cannot destroy all free radicals without assistance. For this reason, it is highly important to eat a diet rich in foods with multiple free radical scavengers. This enhances immune function and keeps the unstable cell level at tolerable limits.
The role of the free radical scavenger is also being tested in the medical field. Various types of antioxidant treatments are being researched which may offer cures for diseases like cancer. The premise is to insert scavengers directly into the affected area, such as a tumor where millions of unstable cells have accumulated, in the hopes that high concentrations of these powerful substances will be able to target diseased cells directly. This would be more efficient at curing disease than more conventional chemical methods because healthy cells would be left intact.
Other ways in which free radical scavengers are useful within the body is in maintaining a youthful appearance and keeping skin vital. Eating antioxidant-rich foods and using lotions with added enzymes or antioxidants may help skin replenish itself more quickly. This helps to prevent wrinkles and sun damage.