Free radicals, oxidative stress, and antioxidants in human health and disease

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Abstract

Free radicals and other reactive oxygen species (ROS) are constantly formed in the human body. Free-radical mechanisms have been implicated in the pathology of several human diseases, including cancer, atherosclerosis, malaria, and rheumatoid arthritis and neurodegenerative diseases. For example, the superoxide radical (O 2 ·− ) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) are known to be generated in the brain and nervous system in vivo, and several areas of the human brain are rich in iron, which appears to be easily mobilizable in a form that can stimulate free-radical reactions. Antioxidant defenses to remove O 2 ·− and H2O2 exist. Superoxide dismutases (SOD) remove O 2 ·− by greatly accelerating its conversion to H2O2. Catalases in peroxisomes convert H2O2 into water and O2 and help to dispose of H2O2 generated by the action of the oxidase enzymes that are located in these organelles. Other important H2O2-removing enzymes in human cells are the glutathione peroxidases. When produced in excess, ROS can cause tissue injury. However, tissue injury can itself cause ROS generation (e.g., by causing activation of phagocytes or releasing transition metal ions from damaged cells), which may (or may not, depending on the situation) contribute to a worsening of the injury. Assessment of oxidative damage to biomolecules by means of emerging technologies based on products of oxidative damage to DNA (e.g., 8-hydroxydeoxyguanosine), lipids (e.g., isoprostanes), and proteins (altered amino acids) would not only advance our understanding of the underlying mechanisms but also facilitate supplementation and intervention studies designed and conducted to test antioxidant efficacy in human health and disease.