New Defense Mechanism Against Free Radicals Discovered

 In Naturopathic News

Node Smith, ND

Inside of each mitochondria, the energy producers of the body, there are reactions that produce “free radicals,” or oxygen radicals. These oxygen radicals are a by-product of converting energy sources, such as carbohydrates and fats, into energy. They are associated with the degradation of various cellular structures, including DNA, and contribute to the aging process. Free radical damage is associated with various diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Superoxide is one of the most common reactive oxygen species that occurs in this energy producing process, as oxygen is formed into water inside the cell.

New biochemical process on how mitochondria defend themselves from superoxide identified

Each cell has an enzyme which converts superoxide into a harmless metabolite, superoxide dismutase. However, Researchers at the University of Bern and the University of Stockholm have found a brand new biochemical process by which mitochondria defend themselves from superoxide, which does not use superoxide dismutatse.1

It is a more direct way of handling superoxide, using another enzyme. The structure of the enzyme has actually been known for some time, though the actual function of the enzyme has just been realized. This is actually an unusual situation; most of the time an enzyme’s structure is found after years of research into its function.

Superoxide oxidase

The enzyme, named superoxide oxidase, converts superoxide back to oxygen, passing the remaining electron to coenzyme Q. The enzyme, in addition to handling oxygen radicals, guides energy back into the electron transport chain.

Research conducted on mitochondria of the bacterium Escherichia coli

The research was conducted on the mitochondria of the bacterium Escherichia coli. The next step of the research is to determine whether this reaction also takes place in human cells.


  1. Lundgren CAK, Sjöstrand D, Biner O, et al. Scavenging of superoxide by a membrane bound superoxide oxidase, Nature Chemical Biology, DOI: 10.1038/s41589-018-0072-x.
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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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