By now, everyone’s heard that antioxidants are good for you; but what do you know about oxidative stress? Brands advertise antioxidants in their products; bloggers list high-antioxidant veggies. But do any of us really understand why it’s so important to pack those antioxidants in? One of the main reasons doctors and dietitians recommend antioxidants has to do with prevention of oxidative stress.
What Exactly Is Oxidative Stress?
We spoke with Ashlea Braun, a certified registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, to shed some light on this topic. According to Braun, oxidative stress happens when there is an imbalance between two compounds: reactive oxygen species and antioxidants.
Antioxidants, like Vitamin C or E, are wonderful dietary components that help neutralize reactive oxygen species. Braun explains, “Reactive oxygen species are regularly made in the body as a result of normal processes, such as metabolism.” In a healthy body, antioxidants keeps this whole process in check. In a body dealing with oxidative stress, the reactive oxygen species take over.
Why Is Oxidative Stress Bad For You?
When the reactive oxygen species dominate, they wreak havoc. According to Braun, “Over time, too many reactive oxygen species in the body (and too few antioxidants) can cause damage to the proteins, fats, and genetic information in the body.”
Thus, oxidative stress and can lead to a variety of different serious health problems including:
- Heart Disease
- Lung Disease
- Alzheimer’s Disease
6 Important Ways To Prevent Or Reduce Oxidative Stress
Now that we know we should aim to prevent or reduce oxidative stress and increase our antioxidants, it is important to look at some of the best ways to go about doing that. Start here!
1. Eat Your Plants
The No. 1 method of avoiding oxidative stress, altogether, is through eating plants. The larger variety of food from the earth you consume, the better. You want to get a full spectrum of antioxidants each day. Of course, fruits and vegetables, in general, are always a good bet, but Braun offered a few specific suggestions including:
- Sunflower Seeds
- Bell Peppers
She also noted that “various red, orange, and yellow vegetables also contain naturally occurring pigments known as carotenoids, such as lycopene and lutein.” Carotenoids also help fight back against oxidative stress.
2. Dig Deeper
When you realize you need more antioxidants, you may go straight to the supplement aisle to offer your body a boost. Ashlea Braun offered a warning to those taking antioxidant supplements. She believes “it is critical … that these antioxidants and carotenoids are obtained from foods — several studies have shown that taking them as a supplement can actually be very harmful.”
However others disagree and when you actually look at the specifics, Braun may be to quick to judge.
“The confusion with antioxidants started from a limited number of studies that were conducted using vit. E and vit. A. Some of them also used multivitamins, vitamin C, and selenium. The studies had some major issues,” explains Athens-based Dr. Dimitris Tsoukalas, MD, a leading expert in the application of Metabolomics and Nutritional Medicine in chronic and autoimmune diseases, as well as the author of How To Live 150 Years In Health
For one, he says the studies used dl-alpha tocopherol, a synthetic form of vitamin E that happens to be a petroleum derivative, meaning it doesn’t exist in nature and is toxic to the human body. Furthermore, while Big Pharma likes to compartmentalize active ingredients, nature works in synergy. Meaning, vitamins cannot be tested as drugs by administration of a unique substance.
“Each nutrient is necessary to the function of different metabolic steps. Then another nutrient is needed to forward the metabolic processes and so on. It’s like having a car you put gasoline in but the battery is down. The car doesn’t start up and you blame the gasoline,” says Tsoukalas.
One has to also consider that some of these clinical trials are poorly designed to test the hypothesis that specific nutrients or combinations of nutrients may help protect against chronic disease. Most trials are done with one or a few nutrients, even though vitamins and minerals generally work as a team in normal metabolism and never operate alone. Finally, clinical trials are often undertaken in people who have already suffered the disease of interest. It’s hard to gauge efficacy when you take a supplement after already suffering from a disease.
With that said, antioxidants given to cancer-suffering patients have indeed demonstrated important benefits. So be careful if your health educator tells you to stay away from anti-oxidants. But do be mindful that many supplements use crappy fillers, chintzing out on quality.
With all this said, we have to note that oxidation is a vital process needed from the organism. So oxidation and antioxidant mechanisms have to be present and efficient both for optimum health. “Natural antioxidants in the proper amount cannot be damaging though because in modern societies the problem is too much oxidation, not too much antioxidants.”
3. Move Your Body
Exercise is key to maintaining a healthy body weight, which is an important factor to prevent oxidative stress. Finding a way to get regular exercise can be difficult for many people. They often have great intentions, but end up feeling bored or overwhelmed by the gym. Remember that exercise does not have to be on the treadmill. Swimming, walking trails, rowing, or joining an adult’s sports league can keep you moving too.
4. Avoid Toxic Products
Removing toxic ingredients from our household cleaners and personal care products can seem like a daunting task. But when you simply focus on replacing each toxic item you have with a nontoxic or all-natural alternative each time you run out, you will have rid your home in no time of dangerous chemicals that can add to oxidative stress.
5. Calm Your Mind
Keeping your environmental stressors down is a wonderful way to help prevent oxidative stress, as well. Practices like yoga, meditation, adult coloring books, or journaling are not just trends. These activities help you manage your stress level, a factor important for not only calming your anxieties, but also keeping your body guarded from oxidative stress.
Braun says, “Overall, eating a primarily plant-based diet … while getting plenty of exercise and maintaining a healthy body weight, can help prevent oxidative stress.” Try implementing these five habits to keep your body working as it should be! And don’t forget, you can always get a little extra help from online vitamin stores.
6. Recharge Your Batteries
Your mitochondria are the batteries in your cells that provide you energy to fuel normal body processes as well as healing from cellular injury, remarks Dr. Alex Rinehart, a licensed chiropractor and Certified Nutrition Specialist. Our little cell batteries are very susceptible to oxidative damage from those pesky free radicals. As such, our mitochondrial health is essential for graceful aging. While there are a number of ways to boost your mitochondria, coenzyme Q10 helps to energize your mitochondria while also acting as a great scavenger of free radicals
Taylor DuVall is a freelance writer, editor, and blogger. As a digital nomad, Taylor runs her business while traveling the world, reading endless books, strumming her guitar, and practicing yoga.
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