The human body is a symbiotic system that relies heavily on all of its processes to run smoothly. When one system fails, the others are forced to pick up the slack in one way or another. This leaves room for chronic disease and illness to take hold, causing a host of symptoms such as fatigue, chronic pain, and immune dysfunction.
There are certain substances in the body that need balance at all times so that chronic illness can be avoided. Free radicals, for example, are atoms, molecules, or ions that have unpaired electrons. In some cases, they can be highly reactive to other chemicals. Sometimes those reactions can be good, but free radical reactions can also cause damage to DNA, cells, and proteins while they seek out an electron to pair with. When they become rampant, they can cause oxidative stress.
What does oxidative stress mean?
Oxidative stress is the term used to describe the effects of an imbalance between harmful free radicals and antioxidants. Since antioxidants can give free radicals an electron without becoming unstable, they help to balance the reactive free radicals, leading to less overall damage.
Although oxidative stress occurs naturally within the body, it can have negative effects if there aren’t enough antioxidants to help stabilize the free radicals. In the best of cases, free radicals help the body fight off pathogens. In the worst of cases, free radicals build up and cause damage that can lead to several different health issues such as diabetes, inflammatory illnesses, and heart disease.
What are the risk factors for oxidative stress?
Since oxidative stress is a natural process, it’s not avoidable. However, there are some factors that can contribute to the excess buildup of free radicals within the body, which can lead to oxidative stress that causes damage to the cells and DNA. They include:
Many foods are a great source of antioxidants, but if your diet doesn’t contain the right kinds of food, then free radical buildup can occur. A diet full of processed foods and high amounts of sugar can also lead to oxidative stress.
Different lifestyle factors can lead to the overabundance of free radicals without adequate levels of antioxidants to counteract their effects. Smoking tobacco products, consuming alcohol, and taking certain medications can all contribute to dangerous levels of free radicals.
Exposure to the elements can also lead to free radical buildup. Regular pollution in the air or exposure to harmful industrial chemicals and pesticides can lead to oxidative stress.
Which health issues can be caused by oxidative stress?
Aside from the aforementioned illnesses that can be attributed to oxidative stress, there are other ailments that can develop over time if oxidative stress is not balanced. They include:
Some research suggests that oxidative stress can contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease because the brain is highly susceptible to the negative effects of oxidative stress. If the body is suffering from oxidative stress, free radicals can damage brain cells to the point of cell death.
When the immune system responds to injury or illness, immune cells start to produce free radicals in efforts to ward off the pathogens, but the newly created free radicals can actually damage healthy cells in the process. This leads to inflammation. In turn, inflammation can lead to a variety of different health conditions, especially if it is chronic.
Oxidative stress causes widespread inflammation throughout the body. Following an immune response, inflammation typically eases, but during times of oxidative stress, the triggering of the inflammatory response continues.
Other conditions that oxidative stress may play a role in include:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Male infertility
Can oxidative stress be reversed?
Since oxidative stress is caused by an abundance of free radicals, it can be reversed if that balance is restored with an optimal amount of antioxidants. It is not a permanent situation if it is addressed in the right way.
Why is it so important to lower oxidative stress?
Since oxidative stress can lead to a myriad of different health conditions, some of which are serious in nature, it can be vital to reverse it prior to the onset of disease. Once oxidative stress causes an illness, there is no way to reverse the illness through the balancing of free radicals and antioxidants alone. Instead, treatment for the condition itself must be undertaken.
How do you reduce oxidative stress?
To reduce oxidative stress, some lifestyle changes will need to take place. The good news is that these changes are easy to adhere to and will help restore the balance between free radicals and antioxidants. They include:
- Exercising regularly. Exercise has been shown to increase levels of antioxidants within the body.
- Avoiding triggers such as smoking, alcohol use, and inhalation of harmful chemicals.
- Getting a sufficient amount of quality sleep.
- Avoiding overeating or binge eating. Research has found that eating too much at any given time can keep the body in oxidative stress.
Foods that reduce oxidative stress
Diet can be a great tool in the fight against oxidative stress. There is a plethora of different foods that can help restore antioxidant balance within the body.
Foods that may help reduce and prevent oxidative stress include:
- Fortified cereals
- Citrus fruits
- Brussels sprouts
- Sunflower oil and seeds
- Peanuts and peanut butters
- Dark leafy greens
- Dark chocolate
- Cabbage, specifically red cabbage
- Green tea
- Onion and garlic
Oxidative stress is not a serious condition on its own, but it can lead to serious and irreversible diseases down the line. The most important way to deal with oxidative stress is through prevention, but if you are experiencing it, getting the right nutrition and changing a few lifestyle factors can reverse the negative effects and ensure that oxidative stress doesn’t cause any illnesses in the long run.