Scientists have known about redox signaling for quite while. The term ‘redox’ is a blend of two words from chemistry. One being ‘reduction’ and the other being ‘oxidation’. Chemically speaking, reduction means the gain of an electron in an atom’s or molecule’s outer layer. And oxidation refers to the loss of an electron in the outer layer. Or simply, oxidation and reduction refer to a change in the oxidation state.
The oxidation process is evident when you see rust forming or an apple turning brown. The metal and apple are oxidizing meaning their atoms are losing an electron to oxidizing agents in the air. This also can be seen as aging. If these items were coated with a reduction agent (which would give back an electron) the oxidizing would stop.
So the process of oxidizing is not good and in order to stop it, the atoms or molecules need to be given back an electron by a reduction reaction. Therefore, when you hear the term ‘redox’ it is referring to chemical reactions that alter the oxidation state.
Redox Signaling Molecules Are Critical To Our Health
So how does this pertain to and why is it important in our cells?
Well, one of the functions of our mitochondria is producing two types of molecules. One type of molecule has an extra electron (the reductive type or RS) and the other type is missing an electron (the oxidative type or ROS). A healthy mitochondria produces these molecules in perfect balance meaning there are equal amounts of each molecule in our cells.
The ‘signaling’ is a method of communication by these redox molecules. They act as biological messengers. For example, when the mitochondrion gets stressed for various reasons it will over-produce the ROS type molecules, otherwise known as free radicals. Thus, the abundance of these free radicals alert or signal specific proteins by oxidizing them which cause subsequent chemical reactions to take place in an effort to remove the cause of stress inside the cell.
For this reason, redox signaling molecules are vital to the health of our cells and therefore our entire body. As the mitochondria continues to be stressed, an excessive imbalance of ROS molecules will occur. These free radicals will begin to damage the internal organelles of the cell forcing the cell to turn bad and ultimately die. Therefore, the key optimum health is to maintain ample redox molecules in a balanced mixture inside our cells.