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Can Oxidative Stress be Reversed?

Oxidative stress can cause substantial damage to cells, tissues, and organs. Left unaddressed, it can also lead to several health disorders. Fortunately, oxidative stress may be reversed — if you take the proper action before it gets out of control.

What Is Oxidative Stress?

Oxidative stress is a natural process resulting from an imbalance in normal body cell function.

As they work, cells combine oxygen with glucose (sugar) to produce energy. The process of taking in and breaking down oxygen molecules is known as oxidation. As body cells break down oxygen, they create byproducts. More specifically, breaking down the oxygen molecules makes molecules with an uneven number of electrons, which are negatively-charged particles.

Scientists refer to molecules with an uneven number of electrons as “free radicals.” An even number of electrons makes molecules stable, whereas having an odd number makes them unstable. Free radicals try to become stable by “stealing” electrons from other molecules — unfortunately, stealing electrons destabilizes the other molecules and turns them into free radicals.

Because they have an uneven number of electrons, these free radicals are unstable and highly reactive. As their number increases, so does free radicals’ effect on cells, tissues, and organs.

The body has a built-in response to keep free radicals under control — cells produce powerful antioxidants, which provide free radicals with the electrons they need to become stable. Ideally, the body produces enough antioxidants to stabilize and reduce the number of free radicals enough to prevent harm to cells. Poor diet and other factors can slow the production of these antioxidants, allowing free radicals to cause widespread damage. In other words, there is an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals.

Scientists refer to this imbalance as oxidative stress. Certain factors can increase the risk of oxidative stress. These risk factors include:

  • Diet
  • Lifestyle choices, such as smoking tobacco and consuming alcohol
  • Certain health conditions and medications
  • Environmental factors, such as exposure to radiation, pesticides, industrial chemicals, and pollution

How Can Oxidative Stress Be Reversed?

The good news is that you can reverse oxidative stress and decrease the damage it causes.

Eat a healthy diet

Eating a balanced, healthful diet is the first step in reversing oxidative stress. Other foods, mainly those containing antioxidants, can reduce oxidative stress. Foods high in antioxidants include:

  • Dark chocolate
  • Goji berries
  • Blueberries
  • Pecans
  • Strawberries
  • Artichokes
  • Red cabbage
  • Raspberries
  • Kale
  • Beans

Limit your intake of processed foods

Certain foods, especially processed foods and foods high in fat and sugar, cause oxidative stress.

Get moving

Engaging in moderate exercise increases the activity of antioxidants in skeletal muscles and the heart and liver. Physical activity is especially helpful in boosting the antioxidant system in older adults.

Quit smoking

Smoking cigarettes or other types of tobacco causes inflammation that triggers the production of free radicals. Tobacco smoking also decreases antioxidant levels, especially in the blood. Quitting smoking can also improve exercise performance to reverse oxidative stress even further.

Reduce stress

Stress causes rapid breathing and increases the rate at which cells use, or metabolize, oxygen to increase oxidation. Stressors are everywhere and hard to avoid, but it is possible to decrease ambient stress and the imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants it causes.

Approaches to reducing stress include:

  • Exercising
  • Meditation
  • Laughing more
  • Connecting with others
  • Practicing yoga
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Keeping a journal
  • Healthful eating
  • Reducing unhealthy habits

Reducing exposure to harsh chemicals and pollutants

Avoiding pollutants and harsh chemicals entirely is nearly impossible, as they are everywhere inside and outside the home. Ways to reduce exposure to contaminants and harsh chemicals include:

  • Restricting tobacco smoking indoors
  • Minimizing the use of air fresheners and other strongly scented products
  • Avoiding the use of pine- or citrus-scented cleaning products
  • Minimizing the use of products containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), used to make surfaces stain- and water-repellent or non-stick
  • Using pain, glue, or caulk outside
  • Reducing the use of candles and incense

Undergo red light therapy

At specific wavelengths, light has therapeutic effects on the way cells produce energy. More specifically, red light enhances how cells use or metabolize energy. Therapies using red light help reduce the damaging effects of oxidative stress. Red light therapy, also known as photobiomodulation, helps promote the body’s natural processes for metabolizing free radicals, thereby reversing the imbalances that cause oxidative stress.

For more information on oxidative stress and ways to reverse it, consult a healthcare or wellness professional. Understanding oxidative stress can help reduce the damaging effects of this imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants.

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