Have you ever wondered to yourself, "what is oxidative stress?"
If you’ve grown interested in your health, preventative medicine, or healthy aging you’ve probably come across the term “oxidative stress” in a multitude of articles discussing everything from weight loss and bloating to joint pain and chronic disease.
Not everyone offers a simple definition though; it's the byproduct of a chemical reaction that involves loose electrons and cell membranes. Unless you’re a doctor, a scientist, or were really into chemistry in high school, it’s a concept that can easily go over our heads.
Nevertheless, we’re here to make it simple:
Just as bananas turn brown when exposed to oxygen, our cells oxidize or “rust” too.
This otherwise natural and necessary process may become imbalanced and lead to damaging cellular “stress” that creates the perfect conditions for aging, infections, chronic illnesses, inflammatory conditions, neurodegenerative diseases and more.
A growing body of evidence indicates that when left unchecked, it may contribute to diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
However, you may feel the effects of oxidative stress and inflammation even when you don’t suffer from a severe condition. They are often behind wrinkles, knee pain, abdominal bloating, and more.
In this article, we will simplify the oxidative stress definition, discuss its pros and cons, what is oxidative stress like in your body, and how to prevent or reduce it for optimal health. Perfect for back-to-school season and fourth quarter business when stress levels are at an all-time high!
What is Oxidative Stress?
You might be shocked to learn that oxidation is not all bad; in fact, it has a purpose: it helps cells communicate, adapt to the environment and send the appropriate responses when needed. Oxidative stress happens when there is an excessive form of oxidation that the body can’t adequately regulate.
We like this oxidative stress definition from the Kyoto University of Medicine:
What is oxidative stress? It is a state where oxidative forces exceed the number of antioxidants in the body due to a loss of balance between them.
Before you say, “ok but, what is oxidative stress in English?” Let’s break this down:
- Your body produces oxidation naturally during energy management processes at a cellular level.
- Oxidation releases free radicals.
- Free radicals are oxidizing agents, the mechanism that “browns” the banana.
- Antioxidants are neutralizing agents that come from vitamins, minerals, and more.
- These two forces should be naturally balanced.
The simplest oxidative stress definition you can use is this:
When there are more free radicals in the body than antioxidants, there’s oxidative stress.
Free Radicals, Antioxidants, and The Process of Oxidation:
The body needs energy to survive and that energy is made inside the mitochondria, your cellular power plant. When the body uses energy for anything -from breathing to thinking- some “free radicals” are made.
Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules that have an odd number of electrons.
These uneven electrons make free radical very “reactive” (generally called reactive oxygen species or ROS) because unpaired or loose electrons want to find a match. These reactions are called oxidation and they’re essentially that “rusting” or “browning” process we see in bananas or metal.
Your eyes may have glazed over with that information, but to understand what is oxidative stress, this is important.
Whenever possible these unstable molecules will “attach” themselves to healthy molecules, damaging the tissue they’re on. Cue wrinkles, bloating, joint pain, and worse.
Antioxidants, on the other hand, are molecules that target these free radicals and can neutralize their oxidizing capacities donating an electron to those loose free radicals, without making themselves unstable.
Under optimum conditions, your body is more than capable of balancing the two, but sometimes the number of free radicals exceeds the antioxidant systems leading to disease, usually when you’re diet is low on micronutrients from fruits and vegetables.
Hopefully, you now have a clear oxidative stress definition. Now, let’s get it into what causes it and how to prevent it.
What Causes Oxidative Stress in The Body?
Understanding what is oxidative stress is just the beginning; many factors contribute to oxidation in the body:
- High Sugar and Carb Diet: also known as an acidic diet, sugar, and carbs require more energy to be burnt from the mitochondria, which increases free radical levels.
- Excessive Stress: High levels of the cortisol hormone increase oxidative stress and inflammation, which may lead to the production of free radicals.
- Poor Liver Detox: unhealthy liver function leads to toxin saturation, which in turn forces the liver to produce more free radicals. Poor diet, chemical exposure, and cleaning or beauty products may all overtax the liver.
- Too Little and Too Much Exercise: your body is meant to move, on a standard 1,600 to 2,000 calories diet if you exercise less than 30 minutes a day, you’re probably not getting enough. If you’re doing more than 60 minutes per day, then you could be overdoing it. This lack of balance may lead to oxidative stress.
- Tobacco Smoke: contains 4,000 toxic chemicals that may lead to it.
- Air pollution: industrial pollution, allergens, chemical exhaust, all contribute to oxidation in the body.
- Alcohol Consumption: licor may boost cytokine production, which is linked to oxidative stress and inflammation; they’re pro-inflammatory molecules.
- Sleep Deprivation: there’s a link between cortisol and sleep cycles, the less you sleep the more cortisol gets out of control.
- Inflamed Gut: oxidative stress and inflammation go hand in hand, if your gastrointestinal tract is inflamed, slow, or backed up it could increase toxicity levels and ultimately free radical production.
- Radiation: from x-rays, cellphones, airplanes, WiFi routers, and more are linked to oxidative stress.
- Mold: and other environmental toxins found on roofs, bathrooms, etc.
- Infections: the immune response activates macrophages which release free radicals when fighting off a threat. However, oxidative stress may trigger inflammation on its own.
How Does Oxidative Stress Show Up in the Body?
Oxidative stress and inflammation show up in different ways in your system, and you may not notice the link between them at first. If you don’t have these warning signs of inflammation, these are some symptoms to look out for:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Excessive wrinkles and grey hair, sooner than expected
- Brain fog, poor memory, and concentration
- Recurrent infections
- Chronic fatigue
- Poor eyesight
- Noise sensitivity
What is oxidative stress like in joints? It may show up as knee pain, wrist pain, difficulty to hold things, pain while typing, and other forms of inflammation in the joints. All of these are common symptoms of arthritis and research suggests that reducing oxidative stress could help alleviate these symptoms and prevent further damage, as it is one of the leading causes of this degenerative-tissue disease.
Studies show that oxidative stress may contribute to acid reflux, esophagitis, Helicobacter pylori-associated gastritis, ulcerative colitis, gastric inflammation, and more. Scientists are still figuring out what is oxidative stress and its role in each of these conditions, but most evidence points to their extended duration and worsening.
Oxidative stress has been linked to Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It may also be linked to loss of cognitive function and poor memory. What is oxidative stress if not the simplest explanation to aging? Neurological functions are deeply affected by free radicals.
How to Prevent Oxidative Stress (the Natural Way):
You can prevent or reduce free radical formation that shows up in your face, joints, and more with simple natural remedies.
Breathwork and meditation; it helps the body reduce stress and flush toxins through exhalation.
- Eat foods high in antioxidants:
- Citrus fruits
- Try Using Herbs and Roots with Adaptogen or Antioxidant Powers:
- Ginkgo Biloba
- Ginger Root
- Green tea
- Matcha green tea
- Milk thistle
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) an antioxidant used to promote brain health and critical for the mitochondria.
- Vitamin C supplements to boost the immune system. Like Organifi Immunity.
- Turmeric a highly anti-inflammatory and antioxidant root. To get the benefits of turmeric, it must have black pepper to be absorbed by the body. Sip on some Organifi Gold and see just how tasty turmeric is.
- NADH or Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide a supplement that may help manage energy production cycles of energy in the mitochondria.
- Probiotics and prebiotics to balance your gut health.
- Collagen for healthy bones, joints, muscle, and internal tissue. Collagen is a fundamental building block for the body, boost it with Organifi Glow.
Oxidative stress and inflammation are both natural metabolic and immune system processes that only cause harm when they are out of control. Learning what is oxidative stress and how to prevent it is vital to healthy aging and disease prevention; the most powerful defense against it comes from antioxidants that you can get from your diet.
Exercise and stress management also help manage energy and regulate free radical production in the body - always great companions to a healthy diet.
If this article helped you understand what oxidative stress is or inspired you to prevent it - share with a friend! Here’s to healthy aging.