Chances are you’ve seen the words oxidative stress before. Perhaps it was even here in Healthier Talk.
But if you’re unsure exactly what it means, don’t worry you’re in good company. Many folks find the term confusing.
Which is why we’re going to bust through the mystery today with a simple, easy to understand explanation.
Demystifying oxidative stress
You’ve heard of free radicals and antioxidants before, right? Well, they lie at the heart of oxidative stress.
Our cells use almost all of the oxygen we breathe in for energy production. But around two percent doesn’t get used. This “extra” oxygen splits into single atoms.
Those molecules, called free radicals, contain an uneven number of electrons which makes them unbalanced and very reactive to other molecules they meet.
These free radicals, as their name implies, essentially go wandering around bumping into, and reacting with, other molecules. Kind of like that drunk guy at a party who has had a bit too much to drink.
The reaction that occurs is called oxidation. It’s a perfectly normal process, and even essential for our bodies to function properly. For example, rowdy free radicals can help fight off infection causing bugs. And they’re at the heart of a number of metabolic reactions in our bodies.
But it can also be harmful, which we will talk about more in a moment.
Too many free radicals leads to damage
Antioxidants on the other hand are stable molecules. You can think of them as the teetotalers at the party.
They generously lend the free radicals an electron while remaining stable themselves. Like a strong cup of black coffee, this borrowed electron stabilizes the rampaging free radical, and it becomes less reactive.
But sometimes there are far too many free radicals and far too few antioxidants in the crowd. Things are out of balance. This is when oxidative stress occurs.
Without enough stabilizing antioxidants around to keep the crowd under control the free radicals can turn into a raging mob. They begin to cause damage to DNA, proteins and fatty tissues in the body.
Oxidative stress makes us old and sick
Oxidative stress is one of the main culprits behind the process we call aging. And, over time, the damage it causes can trigger some of our most devastating diseases including…
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
But that’s only part of the oxidative stress story.
Sources of free radicals
As your body goes about its everyday tasks, it naturally produces some free radicals. Even things we do that are good for us such as exercising can create free radicals.
If those were the only free radicals we ever had to deal with we probably wouldn’t have to worry much about oxidative stress. But, of course, they aren’t. We encounter free radicals in our environment as well.
Some of the biggest sources of environmental free radicals are…
- unhealthy diet
- cleaning products
- industrial chemicals
- tobacco smoke
- heavy metals
- radiation (x-rays, flying, nuclear accidents, etc.)
In other words, it’s impossible to completely avoid free radicals and the oxidative stress they cause. But we can do some things to minimize the damage.
In fact, we’ve shared some of those strategies with you before.
Strategies to slash oxidative stress
We revealed some tips for reducing your risks from radiation in our special report How to protect against everyday radiation exposure. And we offered some safer alternatives to chemical cleaners in Clever ways to detox your cleaning routine TODAY.
But don’t stop there.
If you smoke, quit. And when shopping choose organic products whenever possible to reduce your exposure to pesticides.
And finally make an effort to add more oxidative stress battling antioxidants to your diet. Some of the best sources are fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and spices.
Following are a few good choices to bring to the party…
- dark chocolate
- artichokes (boiled)
- kidney beans
- chia seed
- goji berries
- grapes (red or purple, the darker the better)
- red berries (such as raspberries and strawberries)
- red bell pepper
When far too many free radicals crash the party they can start busting up the place. Fight that oxidative stress with these simple strategies.