Free radicals are formed during a process called oxidation, in which oxygen interacts with other compounds in the body.
Basically, free radicals are found in species who require oxygen to survive (i.e., humans, cats, dogs, etc.). These molecules are produced during normal bodily functions, such as when cells burn food for energy or the body is fighting off bacteria or viruses.
Furthermore, a free radical is any molecule that possesses an unpaired electron, making it unstable. To stabilize, a free radical will typically intrude on cells in the body. In doing so, free radicals tend to transform once stable cells into a string of unstable molecules.
Although free radicals are essential to many metabolic reactions within the body, including muscle function, digestion of food and support of the immune system’s ability to kill germs, they can cause damage when reacting with important cellular components.
As free radicals are highly reactive, they can bind to, and ultimately damage, any normal cell part within the body, such as DNA. Damage to such cell components can lead to improper cell function and even cell death.
In summary, although cats need oxygen to live (their body uses oxygen to burn “fuel,” or dietary calories), this generates detrimental by-products in the form of free radicals. Free radicals “corrode” the body by stripping electrons from any other molecules they meet in a domino-like chain reaction.
Antioxidants and free radicals interact closely in the body. In fact, antioxidants are molecules that can bind to free radicals by donating one of their own electrons, thereby stabilizing them and stopping the reactions they cause. They can thus potentially reduce the damage to cells of the body.
Fortunately, when donating electrons, antioxidants do not become free radicals themselves, since they are stable in all forms.
It is estimated that each body cell endures 10,000 oxidative hits every day from free radicals. Antioxidants are very important for warding off cell damage by “cleaning up” or removing free radicals before they can do harm.
Thankfully, the body can rely on 2 types of antioxidant systems:
As mentioned above, free radicals do not have a negative impact when they are formed during normal bodily functions. However, a few external factors can also trigger the production of free radicals if your cat is exposed to them. These include:
These factors create a surplus of free radicals in their body. It is the imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract their harmful effects that results in aging and age-related diseases, such osteoarthritis, neurodegeneration, cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
Free radicals are most often involved in disease development or cell damage that leads to aging, whereas antioxidants are closely involved in the prevention of these.
Basically, cats’ bodies naturally do get “rusty” over time (natural degradation, environmental factors) just like metal. Free radicals act like the rusting process. Antioxidants act like rustproofing.
Cats can also benefit from dietary antioxidants even if they have built-in defenses to reduce the impact of free radicals. Specifically, a number of plants contain naturally occurring compounds that act as antioxidants.
Various fruits and vegetables have been analyzed by scientists to measure their antioxidant power (oxygen radical absorbance capacity or ORAC). Higher ORAC values imply a higher measured antioxidant activity. For instance:
Provides optimal levels of protein and fat for sustained energy.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids from salmon, vegetable oil and fish oil help maintain skin and coat health.
Added prebiotics help support digestive health.