Metabolism 101: Oxidation & Reduction

Oxidation! Anti-oxidants! DNA damage! Cancer! Woaa woaa woaa! Let’s step back for a second and actually understand what oxidation is. Also, let’s not forget oxidation’s partner in crime, reduction and how the two are vital for metabolism.

As I’m sure you know, atoms are made up of electrons. These electrons are not static are a capable of moving from one atom to another. That’s exactly what oxidation and reduction are all about. The atom or molecule that loses an electron is a reducing agent and becomes oxidized. Alternatively, the atom that gains an electron is an oxidizing agent and gets reduced. This is the basic principle behind oxidation-reduction (redox) reactions. Just as simple as that 🙂

Another trick to understand this is to think of “reduction” as the atom having a lower charge. Think about it, a reduced atom would have gained an extra electron and hence would have a negative (or lower) charge.

Now lets put this in the context of nasty oxidants (free radicals) like ozone. Well the thing with ozone is that it’s a poor unhappy molecule that is dire need of an electron to become happy. So what does it do? It will rip away an electron from another molecule. So selfish! The issue is that the molecule it stole the electron from will become unhappy and “damaged”. Quite an issue if the molecule we’re talking about is our DNA.

Well… anti-oxidants to the rescue!!! These good guys are basically reducing agents that will give off their extra electron to oxidants to neutralize them. Hence, eat your berries and no one will get hurt 😉

You might be wondering how does all of this relate to metabolism? When you burn macronutrients, you are essentially oxidizing them. Thus, we need oxidizing agents that will pull the electrons off of the macronutrients. Specifically, these agents are coenzymes called FAD, NAD+, and NADP+. Each one of these acts as an electron carrier and is capable of holding on to 2 electrons. These electrons are crucial as they will take part in a process called oxidative phosphorylation which generates most ATP in macronutrient breakdown.

Alternatively, coenzymes are important in the synthesis of fatty acids where they serve the complete opposite role. They will donate the electrons that they carry not to generate energy or ATP but to put it into storage as fat.

Furthermore, NAD+ or NADH+ H+ balance is crucial for determining whether your body will undergo aerobic or anaerobic respiration. This will all make sense in future posts.

Now that I’ve covered what energy is and oxidation & reduction, I still want to go over what enzymes are. After that, it’s all juicy metabolism information 😉


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