Oxidative stress: Imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract their negative effects by neutralizing them with antioxidants
Umm . . . . what exactly does that mean? And how does this affect your body?
Understanding Oxidative Stress
“Oxidation” is the chemical term that describes removing electrons from an atom. Your cells are made of molecules that contain electrons, and these electrons can be “stolen” by an unstable atom that needs another electron to be stable. When this happens in your body, it can lead to tissue damage. Think about an apple that you cut and leave out. It turns brown, starts to shrivel and wrinkle, and gets mushy. That’s oxidation. Another example is rust—that’s metal oxidizing, getting holes and becoming weak and discolored.
Check out this video to see oxidation in real-time.
Our body is really busy. Digesting food, breathing in and out, using our muscles, even thinking, are all hard work. This work can generate byproducts—like free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that start oxidation—they need an electron from another molecule to become stable. You need some free radicals to stimulate important physiological processes, such as helping the immune system function correctly and stimulating cellular signaling pathways. But when there are too many free radicals circulating through the body, that imbalance starts a chain of electron stealing that can eventually lead to tissue damage.
Your Internal Defense System
To avoid this tissue damage, your body has defenses: physical barriers to stop free radicals, enzymes that neutralize oxygen, antioxidants that can donate electrons where they are missing, and repair mechanisms to fix any damage done. Whenever there is an imbalance—the amount of free radicals rampaging through the body and causing damage overwhelms the body’s defenses or there aren’t enough antioxidants to calm the free radicals—you have oxidative stress.
What causes the imbalance? Your body’s defenses are down when you feel stress—physical, mental, or emotional. What kind of symptoms do you see when this is all happening?
- Brain fog
- Muscle and/or joint pain
- Grey hair
- Decreased eyesight
- Sensitive to noise
- Susceptible to infections
If left unchecked, oxidative stress causes enough internal disruption that more problematic conditions arise.
How can you stop oxidative stress? Bring your body back into balance. Here are some ideas on how to do that:
- Avoid stressors. When you can, avoid too much physical, mental, and/or emotional stress. Avoid processed foods and toxins, such as chemicals, air pollution, etc. Try to keep healthy by avoiding infections—wash your hands frequently, especially during cold and flu season.
- Reduce stress. When you can’t avoid stressors, try to minimize the effect they will have on your body by sleeping, doing deep breathing or meditation, and exercising (but not so much that you cause too much physical stress).
- Boost your internal defense system. Give your body lots of tools to fight oxidative stress. Increase your intake of fresh fruits and veggies, herbs, vitamins, and/or other supplements that contain phytonutrients. These powerful ingredients help protect your health in many ways, one of which is by naturally stimulating your internal defense system.
Bottom line—maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Eat, sleep, and exercise—enough, but not too much. Enjoy time with family and friends as well as time on your own. Keeping balance in your life will help minimize your exposure to oxidative stress which will keep you healthy for years to come.