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Finding the key to a healthy lifestyle has been the cornerstone of many health food and supplement ad campaigns for ages. But eating healthy food isn’t just a fad. Providing your body with everything it needs gives you the tools to live life fully, and feel healthy doing it.
Things like eating a diet full of nutrients and vitamins, getting enough sleep and exercise, and supplementing where needed can help ward off chronic inflammation, disease, and deterioration caused by lifestyle as opposed to ageing. These tools, or lifestyle choices, can also assist in keeping oxidative stress at bay.
What is oxidative stress?
The human body contains both free radicals and antioxidants. Free radicals can be oxygen and nitrogen species that are incomplete as they lack one or more of their electrons. The electrons then need to seek out a second electron to pair up with. Antioxidants protect you from these free radicals by giving them the electron they need to help stabilise the molecule. When there are too many free radicals and not enough antioxidants, it causes oxidative stress.
The overabundance of free radicals then roam through the body, damaging fat tissue and fatty acids, cell membranes, proteins and even DNA. Since the body is made up mostly of these elements, this damage can be detrimental to the function of every bodily system, eventually contributing to chronic disease.
What are the causes of oxidative stress?
The causes of oxidative stress vary and can include exposure to ionising radiation, heavy metal toxicity, and pollution. When oxygen levels become compromised, it leads to stress. Unhealthy lifestyles combined with the aforementioned pollutants can lead to high numbers of free radicals and low numbers of the antioxidants that stabilise them.
Symptoms of oxidative stress can vary from person to person, but often include chronic inflammation and neurodegeneration. Chronic inflammation often causes symptoms such as widespread pain, fatigue and mood disorders. Oxidative stress can also lead to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Other conditions where oxidative stress can be involved include:
- High blood pressure
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
Because the number of free radicals can lead to the damage of cell membranes, even causing the death of cells, it is vital to protect oneself against oxidative stress.
Lifestyle factors and nutritional oxidative stress
Oxidative stress can be brought on by living an unhealthy life. This can include eating a poor, highly processed diet with little to no nutritional value, and failing to do enough exercise. Consuming high amounts of sugar and alcohol can also induce oxidative stress.
Other risk factors include:
- Some medications
- High and continued exposure to certain chemicals including industrial cleaners, pesticides and others
Getting enough antioxidants, especially if you are exposed to one or more of the aforementioned risk factors, is a key to encouraging the proper stabilisation of the free radicals. This is generally done through diet.
What can you do to combat oxidative stress?
In the fight against oxidative stress, there are many lifestyle changes you can make to ensure that you eliminate (or, at the very least, reduce) the number of free radicals within your body. Eating a balanced diet is the first step to battling oxidative stress. It’s recommended that you eat at least 20–30 different fruits and vegetables each week to get a well-rounded level of antioxidants.
Foods that are high in antioxidants include:
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries)
- Goji berries
- Collard greens
- Sweet potatoes
Another lifestyle change that can help reduce oxidative stress is exercise. If you’re a beginner, it’s best to enter a new routine with ease. Intense exercise can sometimes be counterintuitive and bring on free radical production, so starting small and working your way up is the best way to incorporate exercise into your new lifestyle. Good forms of exercise to start with include walking, yoga, swimming and tai chi.
Other ways to help combat oxidative stress include quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, and reducing stress through activities such as meditation.
What supplements are good for oxidative stress?
Antioxidants are the first line of defence when it comes to battling oxidative stress. Studies suggest supplementing a good diet full of wholefoods and fruits and vegetables is great in overcoming oxidative stress.
Some supplements that can help to reduce oxidative stress include:
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
- Milk thistle
Are there any health benefits of oxidative stress?
Although oxidative stress is primarily bad for the body, physiological functions of reactive oxygen species are well known, such as being an important factor in immune defence. For example, recent research has additionally shown that it can assist in the treatment of some chronic conditions. One publication found that it can actually be a helpful assistant in some cases; increasing levels of oxidative stress in the body in a controlled way could actually lead to the death of cancer cells.
More research needs to be done for this to be considered a sure-fire treatment, but it does seem promising as a helpful option in the future.