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Despite what the name might imply, this is not about halting protesters at a freedom march. However, it as about preventing “theft.” But this thief is a molecule, tiny fragments known as free radicals that are believed to play a key role in many health problems.

Specifically, a free radical is an oxygen molecule destabilized by the loss of an electron. Here’s where the robbery comes in. The molecule steals the missing electron from a neighbor to replace the one lost and regain stability. A domino effect is created when the neighbor, having lost its electron, steals from another neighbor. And on it goes.

Free radicals are created continuously when the oxygen we breathe reacts with other compounds in the body to release energy. But these fragments don’t only steal from their neighbors, they also harm our bodies in many ways:

* by speeding oxidation of “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol - this causes cholesterol to accumulate along artery walls—a process that leads to heart attack or stroke.
* by damaging DNA - the result is uncontrolled cell growth and the development of cancer.
* by promoting diabetes - insulin-producing “beta cells” in the pancreas are damaged.
* by damaging brain cells - this can result in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other degenerative neurological diseases.

But the body is not without defenses. It produces its own compounds called antioxidants that neutralize free radicals. It also uses plant antioxidants known as phytochemicals to repair cells damaged by free
radicals.

In addition, there are some steps you can take:

* Eat fruits and vegetables high in phytochemicals, such as vitamins C and E and beta-carotene, no less than 50% of the daily recommended allowance. Best choices: carrots, red peppers, spinach, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, garlic, onions, scallions, soybeans, grapes, apricots, cantaloupe, oranges, grapefruit, and kiwi.
* Take vitamin supplements, the same as above. Studies show that C protects against cancer, E protects against hardening of the arteries and beta-carotene lowers the risk of cancer and heart attack.
* Moderate exercise diverts oxygen and free radicals to the muscles and thereby protects blood vessels and other more vulnerable tissues. Best kind: walk 14 miles a week (or the equivalent).

Fruits, vegetables, vitamin supplements, exercise—an easy way to prevent theft!