Oxidative Stress: The Secret Killer

“Cellular inflammation is a secret killer” - Time Magazine

Well now that sounds aggressive. Maybe because it is. Let’s back up and break down what is oxidative stress? Oxidative stress is an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract or detoxify their harmful effects through neutralization by antioxidants.

Free radicals are atoms or molecules with an odd (unpaired) number of electrons. They can be formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. According to Rice University, once free radicals are formed, a chain reaction can occur. The first free radical pulls an electron from a molecule, which destabilizes the molecule and turns it into a free radical. That molecule then takes an electron from another molecule, destabilizing it and turning it into a free radical. This domino effect can eventually disrupt and damage the whole cell. Free radicals are equal opportunist! While they can help fight infections they also can cause damage to parts of healthy cells such as proteins, DNA, and cell membranes! This process of stealing is referred to as oxidation. (Hence the name “oxidative damage.”)

Now that everyone understands free radicals a little bit better let’s talk about oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the precursor to oxidative damage, where oxidative damage is the harm sustained by cells and tissues that are unable to keep up with free radical domino effect explained earlier. Below is a short list of what causes oxidative stress.

  1. Industrial vegetable oils, including canola, soybean, peanut, and safflower oils, are high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. The very process by which industrial vegetable oils are made exposes omega-6 PUFAs to heat, metals, and other chemicals; this process oxidatively damages the fatty acids and produces “rancid” fats

  2. Insufficient amounts of antioxidants, fruits and veggies, high in antioxidants, but your body may not absorb them fully

  3. most it can turn to waste.Smoking cigarettes, everyone knows smoking is bad, but here is another reason (if you really need one)

  4. Psychological stressors such as finances, your health, and relationships

  5. Environmental toxins: air pollution in urban areas, pesticides found in conventionally grown vegetables, fruits, and grains, and heavy metals

  6. Physical Exercise - it is great to work out as there are many health benefits but working out puts stress on the body and thus leads us to oxidative stress

“So basically, what you are saying is, being alive today we are all coming into contact with something that causes oxidative stress and leading to oxidative damage in our bodies? What are we supposed to do? Live in a bubble?”

No that would be ridiculous.

Antioxidants are here to save the day, well at least help reduce oxidative stress in our bodies naturally along with other self healing activities!

Antioxidants keep free radicals in check. Antioxidants are molecules in cells that prevent free radicals from taking electrons and causing damage. Antioxidants are able to give an electron to a free radical without becoming destabilized themselves, thus stopping the free radical chain reaction. Wow, thanks antioxidants you guys are great!

Well-known antioxidants include beta-carotene and other carotenoids, lutein, vitamin C, vitamin E, lycopene and other phytonutrients such as alpha-lipoic acid, green tea catechins, green tea polyphenols and grape seed extract. Our body produces some antioxidants on its own, but an insufficient amount. Well darn, where can we get more antioxidants? Fruits and veggies are a great source but again we do not know how much we are absorbing. Supplementation is a great way to ensure you are getting a full dose of antioxidants and phytonutrients!