Oxidative stress can cause cell and tissue damage. We look at the lifestyle measures we can take to reduce oxidative stress in the body.
Oxidative stress is something which occurs naturally in the body that can affect the way in which our body ages as well as contribute to a range of chronic illness. It is, however, something which we can help to prevent, or at least reduce, ourselves.
What is it and how is it caused?
Our bodies work to make sure we are balanced; our systems are all designed to function effectively when in harmonious balance. When we develop an imbalance, there are generally knock-on effects. Oxidative stress is caused by an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Usually our body will produce the correct amount of antioxidants to counteract free radicals, however when we fail to neutralise excess free radicals we may suffer with oxidative stress which can cause cell and tissue damage.
This can happen due to an unhealthy diet and lifestyle, or external factors such as pollution and radiation.
Free radicals are basically molecules that are produced by the body during metabolic processes. These molecules have electrons that are unpaired. Antioxidants are able to pair these electrons and therefore neutralise the free radicals. We can source antioxidants from fruits and vegetables and they are present in vitamins A, C, and E as well as being naturally produced by cells within the body.
Mild oxidative stress is usually not harmful and can have some minor positive effects within the body, but long term, it can cause serious damage to our body’s cells, proteins and DNA which can contribute towards major illnesses and cause premature ageing.
Effects of oxidative stress: Usually, once the immune system has responded to an infection or bacterial intrusion, the inflammation that is caused by the free radicals that were produced in the process, will naturally go away. When this inflammation fails to reduce, oxidative stress can occur which can also cause further inflammation, thus producing more free radicals and therefore further oxidative stress. If this cycle continues, the body can suffer from chronic inflammation which is often the cause of more serious conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and cardiovascular disease.
Oxidative stress has also been linked to cancer, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue, asthma, and male infertility.
Further effects of oxidative stress can contribute to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Brain cells are sensitive to oxygen supply and require more than other cells in the body, this oxygen creates useful free radicals during metabolic activity which help to support brain function and growth. However, during oxidative stress the unnecessary free radicals can actually cause serious damage to the brain cells, often causing the cells to die as well as upsetting the protein balance. These processes are potential contributors to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Oxidative stress can also have a negative effect on the elasticity of our skin and therefore speed up the ageing process. It can promote loss of collagen and, if DNA mutations occur, can increase the risk of skin cancer.
What we can do to combat oxidative stress
We can avoid certain things to reduce the risk of oxidative stress:
- Drinking alcohol
- Radiation exposure
- Eating high fat foods
- Eating processed foods
- Eating high sugar foods
- Industrial chemicals
- Air pollution (more difficult to avoid!)
As well as avoiding as many of the above as possible, we can prevent oxidative stress by maintaining a healthy diet. This means incorporating a wide range of plant-based foods – as many varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables as possible to promote a healthy gut and get as many vitamins, minerals (and therefore antioxidants) as we can, naturally. We need plenty of protein, fibre and healthy fats. We must also keep well hydrated, as this is vital to our health. We can also incorporate adaptogens into our diet, these herbs can help to improve our cells resistance to stress and toxicity.
For our skin we can prevent oxidative stress by applying topical antioxidant creams as well as wearing a high quality and UVA & B protective sunscreen. We must also avoid stress, which is a general rule of thumb for a healthy life as well as getting a really good sleep pattern going; eight hours per night of deep uninterrupted sleep is the ultimate goal. And, of course, exercise. Daily.
Bottom line: If we promote a healthy diet and lifestyle we can reduce the risk of suffering from any of the negative effects of oxidative stress as well as hopefully prevent it from happening at all.
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