What Is Oxidative Stress & How Does It Affect The Mind And Body?
Have you ever wondered why Apple starts to turn brown after you cut and leave it out?
It is because of the oxygen in the air (free radicals) which rots the apple. Similarly, when the body is attacked or receives free radicals from different sources, our physical and mental health changes, harming muscles and brain cells.
To prevent this from happening, our body needs antioxidants. It is similar to lemon juice, which contains Vitamin C antioxidants that, when applied to the apple, help protect the cells and tissues from damage caused by oxidative stress.
Is this analogy an eye-opener for you?
If yes, and if you want to know more about oxidative stress and how it harms our body and mind, this post is for you.
As we get busy, we often overlook the free radicals and the influence of oxidative stress on our overall health. Due to this, as we age, we fall prey to incurable neurodegenerative diseases. Considering you don’t want to suffer from these diseases.
In that case, it is time to explore oxidative stress, its effects, associated conditions, risk factors, prevention strategies, and antioxidants’ role in maintaining our well-being.
What is Oxidative Stress?
Simply put, oxidative stress is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body, which damages organs and tissues, resulting in various diseases. This phenomenon develops when there is an imbalance between producing and collecting oxygen-reactive species (ROS) in cells and tissues and the biological system that helps detoxify the reactive products.
By living a healthy lifestyle, this balance can be maintained, and cellular damage can be prevented, which helps you live a healthy life without facing mental and physical issues, including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and other neurodegenerative problems.
Things to know about Oxidative Stress
1. Natural Process:
Oxidative stress is a natural and necessary process in the body resulting from the normal metabolic activities that produce free radicals as byproducts.
2. Balancing Act:
Oxidative stress becomes problematic when there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body.
3. Cellular Damage:
Excessive oxidative stress can lead to cellular damage, contributing to various health issues and accelerating aging.
4. Linked to Diseases:
Oxidative stress is linked to many diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative disorders (like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s), cancer, diabetes, and more. It plays a role in the development and progression of these conditions.
5. Risk Factors:
Several factors can increase the risk of oxidative stress, like an unhealthy diet, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, chronic stress, and exposure to environmental toxins. Age and genetics also influence oxidative stress.
Antioxidants are molecules that counteract oxidative stress. Adding antioxidant-rich foods to your diet helps you stay protected against oxidative damage.
7. Lifestyle Matters:
A healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk of oxidative stress. This includes maintaining a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, managing stress, getting enough sleep, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, and minimizing exposure to environmental toxins.
8. Diagnostic Tests:
Healthcare providers can measure oxidative stress markers through blood tests.
While antioxidants are crucial for health, excessive supplementation can have adverse effects. Obtaining antioxidants from a varied and balanced diet is better than relying on supplements.
10. Consult a Healthcare Provider:
If you have underlying health conditions or concerns about oxidative stress, consult a healthcare provider. They can guide you in managing your health and may recommend specific interventions or treatments.
Effects of Oxidative Stress on Mental & Physical Health
Oxidation is an ordinary and necessary process that takes place in your body. However, oxidative stress occurs when there’s an imbalance between free radical activity and antioxidant activity. Therefore, antioxidants are required to fight free radicals and keep the balance. But when more free radicals are present, the balance kept by antioxidants is disrupted, causing the following issues:
1. Cellular Damage:
Oxidative stress primarily affects cells, and as it increases in the body, it starts to damage cellular components like lipids, proteins, and DNA. This leads to mutations, impairs cellular function, and even triggers cell death.
Oxidative stress also fastens the aging process. As free radicals damage cells and tissues, the brain becomes more vulnerable to oxidative stress, and visible signs of aging, such as wrinkles and reduced skin elasticity, are witnessed. Also, the damage caused by oxidative stress over time contributes to age-related cognitive decline, resulting in difficulties with memory, problem-solving, and other cognitive functions.
Oxidative stress can promote inflammation in the brain. While it is a natural response to injury or infection, when it takes the form of chronic inflammation caused by oxidative stress, it contributes to brain tissue damage and the development of neurological disorders and various other diseases, including arthritis and cardiovascular conditions.
4. Neurodegenerative Diseases:
Strongly connected to neurodegenerative diseases, oxidative stress damages brain cells, due to which motor and cognition skills are affected, leading to Alzheimer’s and other problems.
In these conditions, an accumulation of abnormal proteins and oxidative damage in the brain contributes to the progressive loss of brain function, and the characteristic symptoms of these diseases develop.
5. Blood-Brain Barrier Dysfunction:
The blood-brain barrier is a security layer that keeps blood from overflowing in the brain. Oxidative stress can impair the function of this barrier, allowing harmful substances to enter the brain more easily. This promotes brain inflammation and damage.
6. Neurotransmitter Imbalance:
Oxidative stress can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters, the chemicals essential for communication between neurons. Its imbalance can affect mood regulation, contributing to anxiety and depression.
Oxidative stress can also cause mutations in DNA, potentially leading to the initiation and progression of cancerous cells.
8. Cardiovascular Problems:
Oxidative stress also damages blood vessels and contributes to the development of atherosclerosis, increasing the risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.
The development and complications of diabetes are also related to oxidative stress. As the free radicals attack the molecules, DNA, and other cells, insulin resistance and damage to pancreatic beta cells take place because of which the cells regulating blood sugar levels are affected, which causes diabetes.
10. Respiratory Issues:
In the lungs, oxidative stress can cause inflammation and damage lung tissues, contributing to respiratory conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Also, when oxidative stress is increased, it weakens the immune system, making the body more vulnerable to infections and illnesses.
What are Free Radicals?
Free radicals are reactive molecules with unpaired electrons. As electrons prefer to be in pairs to gain stability, free radicals try to steal electrons from other molecules. In this process, they damage those molecules, causing harm to DNA, protein, and cell membranes. Free radicals are a byproduct of bodily metabolic processes and external factors like pollution, radiation, tobacco, and smoking.
At the same time, the body can fight with these free radicals and neutralize them. However, when they are in excessive amounts, it leads to oxidative stress, which is linked to aging and various diseases.
Let’s take an example to understand free radicals better.
Imagine free radicals as tiny scavengers within your body. These hunters have a missing puzzle piece, the unpaired electron, similar to the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle, which we are constantly on the lookout for to complete their puzzle.
They steal pieces (electrons) from other molecules they meet to finish the puzzle, causing a chain reaction. This creates chaos and disruption in the normal functioning of cells and tissues in your body, affecting mental and physical health.
To counter this effect, the body takes help from antioxidants. They are the molecules that can donate electrons to stabilize free radicals without becoming reactive.
What are Antioxidants?
Simply put, they are like the superheroes in your body’s defense system, protecting your cells from the harmful effects of oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
Consider your body a crowded city and the cells as its buildings. Now, an evildoer who is a graffiti artist named “Free Radical” enters the city and starts spraying paint with a bottle with a missing cap, the unpaired electron. This is when the city maintenance workers, the “Antioxidants,” come into play. They check the city for damage caused by free radicals, fix it with paint, and cap the electrons they have. But the question is, how do they do it?
Donating Electrons & stopping chain reaction – Antioxidants are generous givers. When they see a cell being attacked by free radicals, they donate electrons to stabilize the situation. When they do this, they ensure that free radicals don’t create a chain reaction and prevent them from stealing electrons from other buildings (cells).
This way, the antioxidant protects the body from cellular damage and oxidative stress, thus safeguarding your health and reducing the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders.
Importance of Antioxidants
By giving away electrons to stop chain reactions, antioxidants help the body function normally. Alongside, it offers the following benefits:
- Nullify harmful free radicals, preventing cellular damage.
- Protect cells, DNA, and immune cells from oxidative stress.
- Reduce the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer.
- Support eye health, skin health, and brain health.
- Slow down the aging process and promote overall well-being.
- Protects brain cells from oxidative damage.
- Contributes to overall well-being by promoting healthy cellular function and reducing the risk of chronic diseases.
- Help protect cellular components, including lipids, proteins, and DNA, from oxidative damage.
- Supports the immune system by protecting immune cells from oxidative damage.
Conditions Linked to Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress is a troublemaker that doesn’t come alone. It comes in a group, and this group affects other parts of the body, causing issues like:
- Cardiovascular diseases like atherosclerosis, hypertension, and coronary artery disease are also linked with oxidative stress.
- Diabetes is another disease that progresses due to oxidative stress. The stress leads to insulin resistance, impairs pancreatic beta cell function, and contributes to diabetic complications such as neuropathy, retinopathy, and nephropathy.
- Neurodegenerative Diseases: Conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are associated with oxidative stress. Oxidative damage to neurons and the accumulation of abnormal proteins contribute to the progression of these diseases.
- Chronic Inflammatory disorders
- Age-Related Eye Diseases
- Liver, Kidney, and Respiratory diseases – Liver conditions like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), alcoholic liver disease, development of kidney diseases, including chronic kidney disease (CKD) and diabetic nephropathy, lung conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are influenced by oxidative stress.
- Autoimmune diseases – Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and multiple sclerosis (MS) are associated with oxidative stress
- Obesity: Increased oxidative stress leads to inflammation and excess fat tissue.
- Skin aging: Premature skin aging, including wrinkles, age spots, and reduced skin elasticity, is also caused due to oxidative stress.
Risk Factors for Oxidative Stress
Several factors can increase the risk of oxidative stress and contribute to an imbalance between producing harmful free radicals and antioxidants. Here are some common risk factors for oxidative stress:
1. Unhealthy Diet: Consumption of processed foods, saturated fats, trans fats, and sugary beverages in large quantities can increase oxidative stress.
2. Smoking: Smoking tobacco is a significant source of inviting free radicals and increasing oxidative stress. When you do active or passive smoking, the body is exposed to harmful chemicals that can damage cells and tissues.
3. Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption increases oxidative stress in the liver and other organs, producing free radicals as a byproduct.
4. Environmental Toxins: Air pollution, heavy metals, pesticides, and other environmental pollutants can contribute to oxidative stress, generating free radicals and damaging cellular structures.
5. Chronic Stress: Prolonged stress produces stress hormones contributing to oxidative stress and unhealthy behaviors like poor dietary choices and lack of exercise.
6. Physical Inactivity: Sitting idle and living a sedentary lifestyle increases oxidative stress.
7. Age: Aging is a natural risk factor for oxidative stress. As we age, our body’s ability to handle free radicals with antioxidants may decline, making us more susceptible to oxidative damage.
8. Medications: Some medicines, like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and chemotherapy, can generate oxidative stress as a side effect.
9. Chronic Diseases: Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune disorders may experience elevated oxidative stress due to ongoing inflammation and metabolic imbalances.
10. Excessive Exercise: While regular physical activity is beneficial, excessive and intense exercise without proper recovery can temporarily increase oxidative stress. In addition, prolonged exposure to UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds can promote oxidative stress in the skin, contributing to premature aging and skin damage.
Preventive Measures for Oxidative Stress:
The risk of oxidative stress can be reduced by adopting a healthy lifestyle and making wise choices. Here are some strategies for preventing oxidative stress:
1. Eat a Balanced Diet:
Consumption of a diet rich in antioxidants, which includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds and are essential in vitamins (such as vitamins C and E) and minerals (such as selenium) act as antioxidants and help combat oxidative stress.
2. Limit Processed Foods:
Reduction in the intake of processed and fried foods, which often contain unhealthy fats and additives, can limit oxidative stress. Opt for whole foods whenever possible.
3. Stay Hydrated:
Drinking adequate water helps maintain cellular hydration and supports the body’s natural detoxification processes.
4. Moderate Alcohol Consumption:
If you have a habit of drinking, start limiting it, as excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to oxidative stress.
5. Quit Smoking:
Smoking is a significant source of free radicals and oxidative stress. Quit smoking as it will help reduce oxidative damage to cells and tissues.
6. Exercise Regularly:
Regular physical activity with aerobic exercise and strength training can enhance the body’s antioxidant defenses and reduce oxidative stress.
7. Manage Stress:
Practice stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, and mindfulness to promote emotional well-being and reduce oxidative stress.
8. Get Adequate Sleep:
Quality sleep is essential for cellular repair and reducing oxidative stress. You should sleep for 7-9 hours restfully at night.
9. Avoid Environmental Toxins:
Minimize exposure to environmental pollutants and toxins whenever possible. This may include using air purifiers, reducing exposure to heavy metals, and following safety guidelines in workplaces with potential toxin exposure.
10. Use Sun Protection:
We cannot stop sun rays from falling on the earth and touching our skin. But by applying sunscreen and wearing protective clothes, we can undoubtedly shield ourselves and prevent being a victim of oxidative stress.
Oxidative Stress Is Manageable
Oxidative stress is a silent troublemaker affecting physical health, memory, brain functioning, and motor movements. When the balance between free radicals and antioxidants is disturbed, oxidative stress occurs. This is why understanding its mechanisms and taking proactive steps is necessary, as it will help protect our brains and bodies from damaging effects.
While avoiding exposure to free radicals is impossible, living a healthy lifestyle with a diet filled with antioxidants and no processed food helps manage stress, stay guarded against oxidative stress, and reduce the risk of diseases caused by it.