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Oxidative Stress and What it Does to Your Body

Oxidative Stress and What it Does to Your Body

More and more these days we hear about “Oxidative Stress” or “Oxidative Balance” which are very important factors in the development of chronic diseases. Oxidative stress, untreated, begins oxidative damage which is the harm that’s inflicted upon cells and tissues that are unable to keep up with free radical production. Oxidative stress itself occurs when there is an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the body’s ability to counteract their damaging effects through neutralization with antioxidants.

In simpler words, when there are more free radicals present in the body than can be kept in balance by antioxidants, the free radicals can start doing damage to fatty tissue, DNA, and proteins in your body. Proteins, lipids, and DNA make up a large part of your body, so that damage can lead to a vast number of diseases over time such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s etc.

Both the oxidative stress and the resulting damage are clearly connected to the production of free radicals so what are these exactly, and what is going wrong?

What are Free Radicals?

First some basics of chemistry. Everything in this universe consists of molecules which, in turn, are build up from atoms which are surrounded by electrons that orbit around the atom like the planets around the sun. However, when such an atom doesn’t have enough electrons to circle it, we call it a free radical. Because its composition has one or more electrons missing, the atom is incomplete and wants to “pair” with another atom and use that atom’s electrons to complete itself.

When oxygen molecules split into single atoms that have “unpaired” electrons, they become unstable free radicals that seek other atoms or molecules to bond to. If this continues to happen, it begins a process called oxidative stress.

Oxidative Stress and What it Does to Your BodyThis electron-stealing frenzy damages cells, proteins, and DNA and is recognized as an underlying factor in many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and autoimmune disease.

What Causes the Production of Free Radicals?

Although free radicals are produced naturally in the body, lifestyle factors can accelerate their production. Those include: exposure to toxic chemicals such as pesticides and air pollution, smoking, alcohol and fried foods. These lifestyle factors have been linked to diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. So, oxidative stress might be a reason why exposure to these substances causes disease.

How to Manage and Prevent Oxidative Stress

It’s impossible to completely avoid free radical exposure and oxidative stress. However, there are things you can do to minimize the effects of oxidative stress on your body. The main thing you can do is to increase your levels of antioxidants and decrease your formation of free radicals.
It is best to obtain antioxidants from a whole-food, nutrient-dense diet rather than supplements. In fact, studies examining the effects of antioxidant supplements indicate that they have no benefit and may even cause harm. It’s best to obtain enough antioxidants in your diet. Eating five servings per day of a variety of fruits and vegetables is the best way to provide your body what it needs to produce antioxidants. Examples of fruits and vegetables include: berries, cherries, citrus fruits, prunes, dark leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, olives. Other examples of dietary antioxidant sources include: fish and nuts, vitamin E, vitamin C, turmeric, green tea, melatonin, onion, garlic and cinnamon.

Next to a better diet, moderate exercise has been associated with higher natural antioxidant levels. Smoking and chemicals should be avoided. Plenty of sleep and less alcohol may help significantly too.

“We always promote a healthier lifestyle to our patients to avoid and prevent health problems, especially later in life. As Dentist and Naturopathic Doctor I have seen many examples of a changed lifestyle resulting in a healthier and more rewarding life and our practice is doing everything possible to promote that,” says Dr. Gashinsky.

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Kresser Institute: What Really Causes Oxidative Damage
Wikipedia: Oxidative Stress
American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity
Healthline.com: Everything You Should Know About Oxidative Stress