What Is Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress is the imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body. When the balance turns in favor of free radicals (too few antioxidants), then this is quite stressful for your cells and their function and physiology. The stress then causes damage to proteins, cell membranes, DNA and RNA. As a matter of daily life, free radicals and antioxidants are naturally produced by cells. There is supposed to be a good balance between the two such that there are not a lot of free radicals floating around causing damage.
Free radicals are molecules containing an uneven number of electrons. The body is inherently controlled by energy and charges that are linked to the electrons in the outer shell of atoms and molecules. When there is an uneven number, this creates issues. Nature does not like an unpaired charge and the negatively charged electron is forced to seek a partner to neutralize itself.
These unpaired electrons make free radicals more reactive with other molecules in the body (like DNA and proteins) and can cause long chain reactions inside your body. These reactions are called oxidation. Oxidation is the same process that causes rust and turns fruits brown over time.
Antioxidants are molecules that can freely give away an electron to free radicals without causing a massive chain reaction. The antioxidants sequester the electron in their own molecular structure.
Without antioxidants, the electrons will pair to or pull an electron from important proteins, cell membranes, DNA and other vital cellular structures. This is an important concept to understand as a pro-oxidant balance is fundamentally the source of most of our human disease.
Diseases Linked To Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress has been linked to a range of different conditions and diseases. Here are a few:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Cardiovascular conditions like high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and stoke
- Inflammatory disorders
- Autoimmune problems
Brains cells are very vulnerable to oxidative stress due to the amount of oxygen required to properly function. The brain uses about 20% of our resting metabolism and this requires a lot of conversion of glucose to usable fuel by nerve cells. The byproduct of that fuel production for the brain will result in abundant amounts of free radicals.
During regular metabolic activity, brain cells generate free radicals that can help brain cell growth, neuroplasticity, and cognitive function. However, when the body goes into oxidative stress free radicals can damage brain cell structures and even cause cell death. Likewise, the free radicals can damage proteins and create large deposits of unusable protein structures throughout the brain.
Oxidative stress has been linked to chronic inflammation. Inflammatory responses can be triggered by oxidative stress. Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress work hand in hand to damage the body and brain. If you can control these two foundational health issues, you will be empowered to manage your own wellness and health.
When functioning normally the macrophages of the immune system produce free radicals while fighting off foreign invaders. However, these free radicals can then go off and damage healthy cells when scavenging for electrons. The ensuing damage to not just pathogens but also normal cells will create more debris and trigger more of an inflammatory response.
This creates a vicious cycle as the immune system is triggered by oxidative stress. During this cycle, if unbroken, it continues to produce more and more free radicals adding to the problem.
Some lifestyle and environmental factors can play a role in a person’s chances of experiencing oxidative stress. Those include:
- smoking tobacco
- drinking excessive alcohol
- diets high in fat, sugar, and processed foods
- and exposure to pesticides or industrial chemicals
- Mental stress
- Poor sleep habits
How can we prevent oxidative stress? The best way to prevent oxidative stress is by reducing the risk factors previously mentioned. Following a balanced, healthy antioxidant-rich diet full of fruits and vegetables. Additionally, you can supplement your diet with antioxidant-rich supplements and multivitamins. Engage in healthy sleeping and avoid external toxins like cigarette smoke.