How Do You Get Rid of Oxidative Stress?
Is your body under attack from oxidative stress? Chances are good that it is – oxidative stress is a natural phenomenon that occurs when your body cells, tissues, and organs perform their everyday functions. The bad news is that excessive oxidative stress can lead to early aging and poor health, affecting your overall wellness. Fortunately, you can take steps to reduce oxidative stress and combat its effects on your body.
What Is Oxidative Stress?
The first step in reducing oxidative stress is to understand it.
Many body cells, tissues, and organs work by breaking down molecules into atoms. Each atom has several electrons, which are particles that carry a negative charge. Some electrons, known as valence electrons, like to bond to create new, more stable atoms and molecules. These electrons can be transferred from one atom to another, shared between neighboring atoms, or shared with all the atoms in a material.
Electrons like to bond in pairs — which gives them stability. Unpaired electrons, known as free radicals, are unstable. Free radicals seek out other unpaired electrons they can bond with or steal. While bonding makes free radicals more stable, it changes how the molecule works. How molecules work changes how cells, tissues, and organs work.
Stealing electrons also causes instability in the atoms that give up their electrons. The newly-created free radicals also scavenge for available electrons, and as they do so, create even more free radicals. This chain reaction can damage cell membranes and DNA, alter chemical reactions in the body, and damage connective tissue and collagen.
Free radicals are a byproduct of everyday physiological functions and as the result of exposure to X-rays, ozone, cigarette smoke, industrial chemicals, air pollutants, and other external sources. The most common source of free radicals is oxygen – specifically when the body cells break down oxygen to use as energy in a process known as oxidation. Breaking down the oxygen can cause oxygen atoms to lose electrons and create free radicals.
The body fights this imbalance with antioxidants, natural substances that can provide free radicals with electrons without becoming unstable. Your body cells produce some antioxidants, but you also get antioxidants through some of the food you eat.
Oxidative stress is a condition in which you have more free radicals than antioxidants. Laboratory testing can measure antioxidant levels in your blood.
The damage caused by oxidative stress can cause a wide variety of diseases and health concerns, such as:
- Chronic inflammation
- Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease
- Heart and blood vessel problems, such as high blood pressure
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Inflammatory disorders
Oxidative Stress Can Lead to Ill Health
Oxidative stress can cause widespread damage to your cells, protein, and DNA. The damage oxidative stress causes can accelerate the aging process. Oxidative stress may also play a role in the development of a wide range of health problems, including diabetes, cancer, and neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
How To Reduce Oxidative Stress
Eat foods that contain antioxidants
Blueberries, strawberries, and cranberries are all high in antioxidants, as are broccoli, spinach, potatoes, and carrots.
Limit fat, sugar, and processed foods
These foods promote oxidation in their own way. For example, exposure to sunlight, air, or heat can cause oxidation in dietary fats and oils. Cells break down sugar to use as fuel, and in the process, it causes oxidation. The preservatives in processed foods may create free radicals.
Improve your lifestyle
Quit smoking, limit alcohol consumption, and exercise regularly.
When you’re stressed out, your body is burning through its energy resources at a tremendous rate. To increase the energy available to your stressed-out cells, your breathing rate increases, as does the rate at which your cells break down sugar – both can cause free radicals and oxidative stress. Dial back the stress by getting active, meditating, and connecting with others.
Avoid environmental causes of oxidative stress, where possible
Reduce exposure to harsh chemicals, pollution, cigarettes, and other environmental causes where possible.
Use red and near-infrared light therapy
While dietary and lifestyle changes can help you manage oxidative stress, they may not be enough to overcome it completely — especially if you are exposed to pollution, ozone, radiation, cigarette smoke, and certain chemicals and pesticides in your environment.
Specific wavelengths of red and near-infrared light reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. Red light also supports the production of ATP, which is a molecule that transports energy within the cell. More ATP means more energy is available for cells to use for everyday function, repair, and proliferation. Light therapy, also known as photobiomodulation, delivers the power of red and near-infrared light to cells deep within the body.
For more information on ways to reduce oxidative stress, consult with your health and wellness professional.
This article was originally published on November 1, 2022, and was last updated on April 6, 2023.