Free Radicals: From Lust to Rust to Dust

freeradicalsOxygen is a two edged sword, and because primitive cells evolved in a CO2 rich environment we have a number of built in defense mechanisms thanks to carbon dioxide that prevent oxidative cellular damage from Reactive Oxygen Species ROS. There are numerous products on the market that help prevent free radical damage, the literal rust from the ongoing process of oxidation but none of them can compare to the ability of CO2 to act as the body’s premier defense mechanism against free radical damage.

Dr. Paul Cheney is one of the world’s most recognized names in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome CFS treatment and research has noted that according to the Oxford Textbook of Medicine, the principal scavenger of peroxynitrite, another highly problematic free radical, at the cellular level is…you guessed it CO2!

So we are beginning to see that carbon dioxide, far more then just a ‘waste gas’ is a key component in maintaining cellular integrity and protection from oxidative stress. Cheney has also pointed out that HDL cholesterol binds peroxynitrite and oxidized LDL cholesterol is the end product. CFS patients typically have elevated cholesterol that may be acting as a protective mechanism providing a greater capacity for ROS scavenging via the cholesterol pathway.

Let’s take a look at what happens when the body’s energy production slows down and the fatigue spiral sets in. Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is the body’s primary energy currency and one of the by- products of efficient ATP production is CO2. As long as the system is working efficiently you have adequate CO2 to take care of ROS and when ATP is compromised things can go very wrong very quickly. Here’s why.

Cells have the ability to switch from respiration that is defined as sugar burning with oxygen (aerobic), to fermentation which is sugar burning without oxygen (anaerobic glycolysis). You might think this is a pretty neat mechanism, but the reality is that the aerobic pathway produces 38 ATP molecules per molecule of sugar it burns, where as the anaerobic pathway will yield only 8 molecules of ATP! The products of anaerobic glycolysis, lactic and pyruvic acid suppress the oxidation of glucose, further impairing cell metabolism and damaging cells. Carbon dioxide opposes both pyruvate and lactate. Lactate is a central component in the degenerative disease process and it was demonstrated by the Nobel laureate Otto Warburg in the 1920′s that cancer cells exhibit glucose fermentation.

So the next time you feel yourself dragging, just consider that if you are stuck in fermentation mode you are running at about 20% efficiency. And let’s remember that the key to healthy aerobic cell metabolism is getting that oxygen in your blood stream to release into the cells, and that requires sufficient levels of CO2. This is called the Verigo-Bohr affect and been an established medical principal for well over one hundred years.

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