Reactive oxygen species (ROS), as the name implies, are highly reactive derivatives of oxygen that are normal by-products of aerobic metabolism. ROS plays a key role in cell functioning, including cell signaling and cell death. However, when ROS are not kept under control by the body’s antioxidant detoxifying systems, they are released excessively and are accumulated in cells and tissues, causing damage. This phenomenon is known as oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress has harmful effects on the body over time and can lead to diabetes, cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, neurodegenerative diseases, inflammatory conditions, and pregnancy complications.
Causes of Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress is caused by free radicals that circulate in the body. Free radicals are uncharged molecules with unpaired electrons in their outermost shell. To fill their partially empty outermost shell, they go around the body and steal electrons from atoms in our cells and tissues, causing damage.
Although the body produces free radicals naturally, the following lifestyle factors can speed up their production.
- Cigarette Smoking is one of the major risk factors for oxidative stress since it generates substantial amounts of free radicals and decreases circulating antioxidant levels in the body.
- Poor Diet
- Environmental Toxins, such as air pollution, biotoxins, mold, and pesticides, deplete antioxidant reserves. Moreover, heavy metals in water supply alter key antioxidant enzyme activities leading to oxidative stress.
- Lack of Exercise
- Alcohol Consumption and Drug Use cause a significant rise in the body’s destructive free radical activity.
Effects of Oxidative Stress on the Body
Long-term oxidative stress damages cells, including their membranes, proteins, and DNA. This has been linked to the onset of a number of diseases, both chronic and degenerative, such as the following:
- Heart Disease – Heart disease or cardiovascular disease is caused by several factors, including smoking, hypertension, poor diet, and diabetes. However, research has shown that oxidative stress should be regarded as either a primary or secondary cause of cardiovascular diseases since free radicals are accumulated in these conditions.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis – Oxidative stress at the joints causes tissue damage, playing a role in rheumatoid arthritis.
- Respiratory Disease – Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma caused by chronic inflammation are associated with oxidative stress.
- Neurological Disease – Multiple neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, and depression, have been linked to oxidative stress. Moreover, several research studies on Alzheimer’s disease have revealed that oxidative damage is a key factor in neuron loss and dementia progression.
- Cancer – Cancer is caused when cellular and molecular changes are induced. One of the factors responsible for these changes is oxidative DNA damage.
- Other Conditions – Oxidative stress is linked to various other conditions and diseases, including glaucoma, diabetes, aging, inflammatory disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, male infertility, and pregnancy complications.
Since an overflow of free radicals causes oxidative stress due to unhealthy lifestyle factors, simply changing your lifestyle can help prevent long-term oxidative stress damage to your body. These include:
- Eating Antioxidant-Rich Food – Antioxidants attach to free radicals and prevent them from taking electrons from the molecules of cells and tissues, thereby combating oxidative stress. A nutrient-dense and whole-food diet provide enough antioxidants for the body to help protect cells and tissues from oxidative stress. Food rich in antioxidants includes fruits and vegetables, nuts, coffee, green tea, cinnamon, turmeric, fish, beans, olive oil, etc.
- Reducing Stress – Chronic stress can cause oxidative stress if left unchecked. Activities such as yoga, meditation, reducing screen time, and spending more time in nature can help alleviate stress.
- Regular Exercising – Regular exercise promotes long-term antioxidant production, while a sedentary lifestyle induces oxidative stress. Getting at least twenty to thirty minutes of moderate exercise four to five times a week will help combat oxidative stress.
- Quit smoking – Smoking is a major cause of oxidative stress and should be avoided.
- Avoid Rancid Vegetable Oils such as canola, soybean, peanut, sunflower, and grapeseed oil as these are linked to oxidative stress. Instead, include extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and other foods rich in anti-inflammatory fats such as avocados, nuts, and seeds in your diet.
- Reduce Environmental Toxin Exposure by avoiding pesticide use in lawns and gardens, filtering drinking water, and storing food in plastic containers.
Oxidative stress is caused when free radicals and antioxidants are not in balance. Although oxidative stress is a natural part of your body’s functions, long-term oxidative stress can damage your cells and tissues and cause several diseases. Making good lifestyle choices such as eating a healthy diet, exercising, quitting smoking, and avoiding stress can help keep your body in balance.
Pizzino, G., Irrera, N., Cucinotta, M., Pallio, G., Mannino, F., Arcoraci, V., Squadrito, F., Altavilla, D., & Bitto, A. (2017). Oxidative Stress: Harms and Benefits for Human Health. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2017, 8416763. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/8416763
Betteridge D. J. (2000). What is oxidative stress?. Metabolism: clinical and experimental, 49(2 Suppl 1), 3–8. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0026-0495(00)80077-3
Preiser J. C. (2012). Oxidative stress. JPEN. Journal of parenteral and enteral nutrition, 36(2), 147–154. https://doi.org/10.1177/0148607111434963
Kresser, C. (2018). What Really Causes Oxidative Damage?. Retrieved from https://kresserinstitute.com/what-really-causes-oxidative-damage/