Simply put, oxidative stress is the damage that occurs when there is an imbalance in the body between free radicals and antioxidants. We all understand how oxygen is critical for living organisms. In order to live, we must breathe. That being said, the reason why oxygen is so critical for life is that due to its reactive properties, our cells utilize these properties to break down food and other compounds into forms that are suitable for cellular intake.
You can think of it in the same way a burning fire needs oxygen to continue burning. A similar process is happening on a molecular level within our bodies. While oxygen is a critical element required to keep our cells functioning, the process utilizing oxygen to produce energy also produces something called free radicals, or excess reactive oxygen molecules that can interact with the molecules in our cells, such as with DNA or RNA, resulting in damage to the affected cells.
Technically speaking, not all free radicals are bad, they’re potent weapons that our cells have developed to digest energy rich foods and attack and break up invading pathogens. The problem occurs when there is an excess of free radicals that cannot be neutralized by the amount of antioxidants produced naturally and ingested through our diet. This is what we call oxidative stress.
For reference, here are some of the sources that stimulate the creation of free radicals.
- When our cells break down glucose to get energy
- When the immune system creates inflammation to fight off viruses and bacteria
- When our bodies detoxify toxins such as pollutants, pesticides, and cigarette smoke
To be fair, there are countless processes taking place in our bodies at any given time utilizing oxidation to some degree. With our reliance on the reactive nature of oxygen, it’s only natural our cells developed the usage of antioxidants to help combat unused free radicals. In fact, the human body produces a potent antioxidant called glutathione that helps neutralize the free radicals in our bodies, the problem is that glutathione production drops off severely for most people once they are in their mid 20s.
Antioxidants work by reacting with free radicals before they can react with other more critical molecules such as DNA and RNA. Because oxidative stress can affect any cell in the body, it is widely believed to be involved in the development of conditions such as ADHD, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart failure, sickle-cell disease, autism, frequent infections, chronic fatigue syndrome, and depression. The list goes on and on.
This is precisely why antioxidants are so important to our health and why you need to watch out for sources of free radicals to protect your health. Here are some major sources of oxidative stress:
- Overeating and overconsumption of sugars and processed foods
While oxidative stress occurs anytime we consume food, sugars and processed foods in general, create a massive amount of free radicals that can’t be neutralized in time by the body.
- Stressful environment
It’s common knowledge that stress shortens your lifespan. This is the case because stress stimulates the body to release a hormone called cortisol, putting your body in a state of alertness which not only affects the hormonal balance in your body, but also elevates the amount of free radicals being produced.
- Toxins from the environment
Although this is difficult to do, you want to avoid smoke from tobacco, phthalates from plastics, exhaust fumes from cars and other gas powered appliances and vehicles, and potential toxins from beauty or cleaning products. Removing these toxins not only puts a strain on your body, but also results in oxidative stress.
To be fair, it is impossible to eliminate all sources of oxidative stress from your life. That’s why it is imperative to supplement your diet with a potent source of antioxidants to help combat the free radicals you are bound to encounter. This involves eating a proper diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, and getting enough sleep so your body can produce more glutathione. A powerful source of antioxidants are beta glucans, which can be extracted from select grains, mushrooms, and yeast. Yeast beta glucan in particular has been shown to be not only a potent antioxidant, but also an immuno-modulator, which means it also has the potential of empowering your immune system. Supplementing your daily routine with yeast beta glucan could represent a powerful method of safeguarding your cells against oxidative stress and its associated diseases.