With any amount of research regarding optimum performance, especially in relation to aging, one particular term seems to come up over and over.
What is that? In context, it always seems to be a negative thing; why is that? I finally took the time to find out.
What is Oxidative Stress?
The term oxidative stress is used to refer to a condition in the body where the production of free radicals is greater than the body’s ability to neutralize them.
This means an abundance of free radicals causing chain reactions of destruction throughout the body. In fact, oxidative stress is linked to many all-too-common diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Sickle-Cell Disease. A free radical is a molecule containing atoms that are unstable because they have unpaired electrons. Figure 1 illustrates how a free radical differs from a normal, stable molecule (simplified, of course).
What Causes it?
Free radical production is normal. Natural processes like metabolism, cell waste, and exercise create free radicals. However, an increased production of free radicals can be due to environmental toxins, infections, radiation, and most notably for my studies – poor diet. Basically, eating crap produces free radicals.
Crap like what?
- Unhealthy fats and oils – particularly trans (hydrogenated) fats
- Preservatives like those in processed meats
- Grilled/charred foods – cooking at high temperatures can cause oxidation
How Can I Fix It?
Antioxidants are the counterpart to free radicals. Antioxidants are like Good Samaritans, helping a molecule in need.
In a typical free radical chain reaction, a free radical steals an electron from another molecule to become stabilized. The original free radical is now stable, but the molecule whose electron was stolen is now a free radical. This chain reaction continues until a kind, generous antioxidant comes along. It has more than enough electrons, and can donate one of them to stabilize the free radical without becoming unstable itself.
So with antioxidants in mind, there are two ways to reduce oxidative stress on the body:
- Avoid exposure to things that cause an increase in free radical production
- Increase intake of antioxidants which will serve to neutralize excess free radicals – many dark colored fruits and leafy greens are high in antioxidants
That’s easy enough! The long and short of handling oxidative stress is: get more of the good stuff and do the good things. Avoid the bad stuff, and don’t do the bad things!