Oxidative stress and free radicals. Some of those big phrases that are being thrown around these days. But what do they actually mean? I do cover this in my nutrition and supplement information events, but thought I’d share it with the wider blog reading world!
The Oxford dictionary defines oxidative stress as “A situation in which greater amounts of free radicals and reactive forms of oxygen are present than can be utilized or neutralized by an organism, resulting in damage to proteins, lipids, DNA, etc.” A free radical is defines as “An uncharged molecule (typically highly reactive and short-lived) having an unpaired valency electron.” Well that’s all more big words!
Let’s try and put this into layman’s terms shall we? Oxidative stress is an imbalance between the production of free radicals and our antioxidant defences. Oxidation is something that naturally occurs in our bodies when incomplete ‘free radical’ oxygen molecules grab a hydrogen ion from a nearby molecule. This in turn grabs one from another structure setting off a chain reaction that could lead to tissue damage. In fact research indicates that oxidative stress is an underlying cause of cancer, so understanding and preventing it is a smart strategy for your wellness. Oxidative stress has also been associated with numerous health conditions including chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, insomnia, cancer, and more.
Free radicals are normal and necessary to some degree. In addition to causing some damage, they also stimulate repair. It is only when the amount of free radicals produced overwhelms the repair processes that it becomes an issue. In fact, there are millions of processes taking place in our bodies at any one moment that can result in oxidation. Those free radicals are then unstable molecules that can damage our body’s cells and tissue. It’s like we have rust inside our body! They are a normal by-product of our cellular metabolism. Imagine our metabolism as a log fire. We need to burn fuel to keep going. But when the fire burns down it leaves ash behind. And the dustpan and brush our body uses to clean up that ash are called anti-oxidants.
Free radicals are created as the results of various things – like the exposure to pollution or excessive sunlight, smoking, sleep deprivation, drinking too much alcohol or eating a poor diet of a lot of processed food. They can also be a result of excessive exercise. If any of those apply to you – you need to make sure your body has plenty anti-oxidants to clean up those free radicals, so you don’t get oxidatively stressed (I don’t think that is an actual phrase, I kind of made that one up)!
We need to protect our cells from oxidative stress. And to do that we need Vitamins A (Beta-carotene from plant sources), B2, C and E, as well as Manganese, Copper, Selenium, Zinc and Olive oil polyphenols.
Many of the above can be found in food sources to prevent the harmful effects of oxidation. Following an eating plan containing ACE vitamins, an appropriate minerals found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts, can help supply your body with the antioxidants it needs.
The three big antioxidant vitamins are vitamin A (beta-carotene), vitamin C and vitamin E. I have always wondered what vegetable or fruit the E stood for in ACE juice, thinking that the A was for apple and the c for carrot. Oh did I feel stupid when I realised that it was named after vitamins…
So where can you find these in food sources?
Beta-carotene and other carotenoids: apricots, asparagus, beetroot, broccoli, cantaloupe melon, carrots, corn, green pepper, kale, mango, turnip, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash, spinach, sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes and watermelon. Loads!
Vitamin C: yes of course oranges, but there is even more in other fruits and vegetables. You can find it in berries, broccoli, Brussel sprouts (yum!), cantaloupe melon, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydrew melon, kale, kiwi, mango, nectarines, papaya, sweet potato, strawberries, tomatoes, Morello cherries (30 times more vitamin C than an orange!), and red, green, or yellow peppers.
Vitamin E: broccoli (boiled), avocado, turnip, mango, nuts, papaya, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach (boiled), and sunflower seeds.
Some herbs can help us reduce oxidation, like: Ginger, Green Tea and Turmeric.
If you struggle to get all your vitamins and minerals from food you might want to consider supplementing vitamins ACE, N-acetylcysteine (This will boost production of glutathione, an important antioxidant and detoxifier), Alpha lipoic acid (This is a major antioxidant that reduces blood sugar levels and helps to improve energy production in the mitochondria), Coenzyme Q10 – CoQ10 (This is an antioxidant that is also important for the mitochondria) or NADH (This is important to the cycle of energy production in the mitochondria). I can help you find those if you are interested.
But eating the rainbow when it comes to anti-oxidants is still the easiest way of getting them. Protecting yourself from oxidative stress is as simple as protecting your cells by providing what your body needs and avoiding what it doesn’t need.