What is Oxidative Stress?

What is oxidative stress?  

A great question!  Oxidative stress is damage caused in our bodies' cells by free radicals.  When the body has oxidative stress, there is an imbalance between the production and manifestation of reactive oxygen species (ROS-which are chemically-reactive molecules containing oxygen) and a biological system's ability to readily detoxify the reactive intermediates or to repair the resulting damage. Note, all forms of life maintain a reducing environment within their cells.  The rate at which damage is caused is determined by how fast the reactive oxygen species are generated and then inactivated by endogenous defense agents call anti-oxidants.  The rate at which damage is removed is dependent on the level of repair enzymes.

What causes oxidative stress?

Free radicals cause oxidative stress.  Free radicals come as by-products of normal metalbolic reactions, such as breaking down food and detoxification reactions in the liver.  They also are from exposure to environmental pollution, cigarette smoking, poisons like cleaners or herbicides, or bacterial, fungal and viral infections.  Free radicals are very unstable molecules with only one electron, therefore they look to strip electrons from any other molecule, destroying their vigor and perpetuating the detrimental process.  This creates yet another free radical to attack more molecules causing a chain reaction of damage in cells.  This damage is called oxidative stress.

The determinants of oxidative stress are regulated by an individual's unique hereditary factors, as well as his/her environment and characteristic lifestyle.  Unfortunately, under the present day lifestyle conditions many people run an abnormally high level of oxidative stress that could increase their probability of early incidence of decline in optimum body functions.

What is the result of oxidative stress?

Dr Weil defines "oxidation" as the chemist's term for the process of removing electrons from an atom or molecule.  The result of this change can be destructive - rusting iron is a familiar result of oxidation.  Here, oxygen is the responsible agent, but other oxidizing agents, such as chlorine, can be as harsh.

In humans, oxidative stress is involved in many diseases including heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, eye disease, Sickle Cell Disease, atherosclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome. 

Oxidative stress damage causes a net stress on the normal body functions, leading to a gradual loss of vital physiological functions, later in life.  This process is commonly believed to occur as a result of "aging process".  The free-radical theory of aging states that organisms age because cells accumulate free radical damage over time.

How can I prevent oxidative stress?

Our bodies have defenses against oxidative stress.  In laboratory experiments, antioxidant molecules counter oxidative stress and its associated damage.  Antioxidants are reducing agents, and limit oxidative stress damage to biological structures by pacifying free radicals.  In doing so, the antioxidants themselves become oxidized.  That is why there is a constant need to replenish our antioxidant resources.

Antioxidant substances include Beta-carotene, Lutein, Lycopene, Selenium, Vitamin A, C and E.  They are found in many foods.  These include fruits and vegetables, nuts, grains, teas, and some meats, poultry and fish.  "A good case can be made for the notion that health depends on a balance between oxidative stress and antioxidant defenses.  Aging and age-related diseases reflect the inability of our antioxidant defenses to cope with oxidative stress over time.  The good news is that with strong antioxidant defenses, long life without disease should be possible." (Weil, 2009)
Top ways many experts believe we can reduce oxidative stress and the effects of aging...

1.  Eat a variety of healthy foods especially bright colored vegetables and fruits.
2.  Take vitamin & mineral supplements that include antioxidants (vitamin A,C and E).
3.  Avoid sugar and processed foods.
4.  Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
5. Drink green tea and red wine --they are thought to have anti-aging properties.
6.  Do not smoke or drink excessively.
7.  Wear sunscreen if you are going to be in the sun.
8.  Exercise -- including cardio and weight training -- 3 times a week.
9.  Get plenty of sleep at night -- at least 7 hours.
10.  Keep your mind active and challenge yourself.

And, finally, click on the links to the right to fight oxidative stress and aging at the source, with the breakthrough products by LifeVantage!

Where can I learn more about oxidative stress?

If you want to learn more, regarding the terms oxidative stress and free radicals, see the ABC Primetime report link to the right.  In addition, Dr Andrew Weil recommends reading the chapter, "Why We Age" in his book, Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well-Being (Knopf, 2005) and Oxygen: The Molecule That Made the World, by Nick Lane (Oxford University Press, 2004).  These books are pictured to the right.  Also check out other books regarding Oxidative Stress from Amazon shown on our book wheel upper right.


Thank you to sources National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging, Genox, Dr Andrew Weil and LifeVantage for information to help clarify the question, what is oxidative stress.