Oxidative Stress

Understanding the cause of many illnesses

There are many health issues that arise from what is called oxidative stress.

Before we discuss ways of overcoming this, let’s examine what it is and how it is caused.

What happens in your body when it has oxidative stress?

Our body consists of trillions of cells. These cells, when healthy, have a stable structure.

Oxidation is a natural process that takes place in all living cells.

In oxidative stress, there is an imbalance between the oxidation taking place in our body and our body’s ability to readily detoxify or repair the damage caused by oxidation. This results in what we call oxidative stress.

How does this happen?

In order to better understand this process, it is often compared to an apple that turns brown when cut and left exposed to air – (the process of oxidation).

The process of oxidation creates what are called free radicals.

Some free radicals occur normally in our bodies through metabolism. However there are also many environmental factors that can cause an excess of free radicals such as pollution, cigarette smoking, radiation, herbicides.

In addition, stress, lack of sleep and lack of exercise can cause free radicals to increase.

These free radicals will start attacking healthy, nearby cells in an attempt to replace their missing electron. When the attacked molecule loses its electron, it becomes a free radical itself. This can cause a chain reaction to occur, resulting in disruption of millions of more healthy cells.

This chain reaction is known as oxidative stress. The attack of free radicals to healthy cells, when it becomes excessive, (oxidative stress) over time damages our cells, tissues, organs and our body and predispose us to many illnesses. Many experts agree that oxidative stress is a leading cause for health problems such as arthritis, premature ageing, oedema and leg swelling, hardening of the arteries and even an increased susceptibility to some cancers.

What Causes Free Radicals?

Free radicals are a by-product of energy consumption in our mitochondria, the factories that produce energy in each of our cells. As we breathe, we can’t help but make some free radicals, but many other factors in your lifestyle and environment can also contribute to their production, like:

Eating too many calories, sugars and/or refined carbohydrates. When we eat more, our mitochondria release more “exhaust,” creating higher levels of free radicals as they burn fuel from food for energy.

Excessive alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol increases your levels of cytokines, inflammatory molecules that are linked to oxidative stress.

Exposure to tobacco smoke. Tobacco smoke contains toxic chemicals that lead to oxidative stress.

Exposure to air pollutants. Allergens and industrial pollution increase oxidation in our bodies.

Excessive stress. Stress and the stress hormone cortisol increase inflammation, which further increases free radical production.

Ionizing radiation. Exposure to x-rays, radon, hair dryers, cell phones, electric blankets and waterbed heaters can contribute to oxidative stress.

Exposure to fungal toxins. Environmental moulds (like those in bathrooms and basements) and internal moulds and fungi (those related to your gut) can produce toxins that increase oxidative stress.

Poor liver and gut detoxification. When the liver becomes overwhelmed with toxins from food (like when you eat too much sugar) or the environment (like exposure to pesticides), it becomes inflamed and produces more free radicals.

Chronic infections. Dental infections and chlamydia can cause hidden infections that contribute to oxidative stress.

Lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation increases oxidation.

How Do You Know If You Have Oxidative Stress?

Here are a few signs to look out for:

  • Fatigue
  • Memory loss and/or brain fog
  • Muscle and/or joint pain
  • Wrinkles and grey hair
  • Decreased eye sight
  • Headaches and sensitivity to noise
  • Susceptibility to infections

Oxidative stress has also been associated with numerous health conditions including chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, insomnia, cancer, and more, as you will see from the diagram below.

How you can prevent / reduce oxidative stress

Part of our defence is to avoid the factors that contribute to excessive oxidation as outlined above.

Avoid sugary foods

When the body has to process sugar it also creates oxidation and the more sugar we eat, the more oxidation takes place. Processed foods often contain sugar and/or other chemicals that also result in oxidation. Eating large and infrequent meals also creates more oxidative stress, so balancing your blood sugar by eating smaller, frequent meals, also helps.

Avoid excessive alcohol consumption

Either regularly or as a one of events.

Do not smoke

Avoid environmental pollutants

Reduce stress levels.

(See the stress section of our website for more information)

It seems so simple, but it really pays off. Build breaks into your day – to give your body a chance to recover. Be sure to stick to the breaks in your schedule (or create them) and take them as a chance to enjoy the outdoors, breathe, and re-center. These are some ideas for daily stress remedies:

  • Exercise (in moderation)
  • Meditation
  • Talking with a friend
  • Enjoying nature
  • Journaling
  • Watching a funny show
  • Taking a walk.
  • Listen to your favourire relaxing music

Consume anti oxidant rich foods – a variety of fruits and vegetables. The more colours you mix the better

Use anti-oxidant supplements and herbs. (Seek advice from your health practitioner for your specific requirements)

Prevent infections

If you tend to get colds and flu easily, make sure you see your health practitioner to avoid this as it also increases free radicals.

Avoid toxins

Choose organic foods and avoid cigarettes, candles, hair and nail salons, exhaust fumes and plastic. Check your personal care and cleaning products for toxic ingredients and replace them with non-toxic alternatives.

Promote the production of anti-oxidants

One of the most powerful anti-oxidants is glutathione which is produced by the body. It is made from three amino acids – glycine, glutamate, and cysteine – and it contains sulfur, which is what makes it so effective.

Eat foods that help your body to make more glutathione such as:

  • Asparagus
  • Peaches
  • Walnuts
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes

You can also support your body to make more glutathione by eating foods that are high in sulfur:

  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, collards, and cabbage
  • Avocados