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The Secret Life of Rust

April 5, 2015

 

When we think of rust, we think of old cars and decaying highway bridges. Perhaps the Tin Man from Oz pops into your head. One thing you probably don't think about is the inside of your own body. Nevertheless, that talk you hear about eating antioxidant-rich vegetables is really a matter of rust reduction.

 

Part of the reason old age kills is because you are, at this very moment, in a lifelong process of rusting out. And reaching for the WD-40 isn't going to help.

 

Your body is a complex soup of chemical reactions. At an atomic level, your cells try to maintain stability. Unfortunately, they are forever being damaged from pollution, stress, junk food, the sun, ozone, electrical appliances, x-rays, smoking, alcohol, and just about anything else you encounter on a day to day basis.

 

Our cells are quietly under siege 24/7. Even your own metabolic processes like breathing and digestion add to the damage. Use or abuse of a cell weakens it. If the structure is too badly compromised, it can release what's known as a free radical. Free radicals attempt to reestablish stability by stealing an electron from a neighboring molecule. (Remember high school chemistry?) This sets off a chain reaction of electron theft, spreading instability.

 

Free radicals that contain oxygen are known as reactive oxygen species, or ROS. They are some of the most common free radicals found in our bodies, and they're responsible for oxygenation, also known as rust.

 

How can you stop yourself from rusting out like the Tin Man? Antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables serve as your own little chemical SWAT team by apprehending and soaking up these renegade oxygen molecules, escorting them away to be eliminated through your waste reduction system.

 

All of this works pretty well, provided the destruction doesn't exceed what your SWAT team can handle. When the chaos outpaces your body's ability to fix it, chances start to decrease that you will be able to remain above room temperature on this spinning watery rock called earth.

 

TV's late night pitchmen hawk the superior cleaning power of antioxidants in a wide variety of products. The principle is the same: the sprays and cleansers fight tough stains by bonding up with everything from the dirt in your clothes to the rust on your barbecue grill. 

 

Oxygen: it's a classic double-edged sword. On one hand, we need it to breathe, but on the other hand, it's what will inevitably take us all down. So the next time you're deciding whether or not to reach for that spinach or those berries, remember what aging rocker Neil Young warned us so long ago: "Rust never sleeps."

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