The role of free radicals in disease.Aust N Z J Ophthalmol 1995; 23(1):3-7AN
Evidence is accumulating that most of the degenerative diseases that afflict humanity have their origin in deleterious free radical reactions. These diseases include atherosclerosis, cancer, inflammatory joint disease, asthma, diabetes, senile dementia and degenerative eye disease. The process of biological ageing might also have a free radical basis. Most free radical damage to cells involves oxygen free radicals or, more generally, activated oxygen species (AOS) which include non-radical species such as singlet oxygen and hydrogen peroxide as well as free radicals. The AOS can damage genetic material, cause lipid peroxidation in cell membranes, and inactivate membrane-bound enzymes. Humans are well endowed with antioxidant defences against AOS; these antioxidants, or free radical scavengers, include ascorbic acid (vitamin C), alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E), beta-carotene, coenzyme Q10, enzymes such as catalase and superoxide dismutase, and trace elements including selenium and zinc. The eye is an organ with intense AOS activity, and it requires high levels of antioxidants to protect its unsaturated fatty acids. The human species is not genetically adapted to survive past middle age, and it appears that antioxidant supplementation of our diet is needed to ensure a more healthy elderly population.