Understanding oxidative stress and its effect on the body

Oxidative stress leads to heart problems. (Photo via Pexels/freestocks.org)
Oxidative stress leads to heart problems. (Photo via Pexels/freestocks.org)

Research suggests that oxidative stress can lead to numerous chronic conditions. These include diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

So, what exactly is it? How does it affect the body? Here’s everything you need to know about it.


What is oxidative stress?

It can be defined as an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals in the body. Although it occurs naturally, it can lead to tissue and cell damage, resulting in a range of chronic illnesses.

Free radicals and antioxidants are produced during metabolic processes by the cells. Antioxidants are produced to neutralize the effects of free radicals. Typically, the body maintains a balance between free radicals and antioxidants. When the body is unable to maintain that balance due to several factors, it leads to oxidative stress.


What are the risk factors that cause excess free radicals in the body?

Smoking contributes to excess free radical production in the body. (Photo via Pexels/Irina Iriser)
Smoking contributes to excess free radical production in the body. (Photo via Pexels/Irina Iriser)

There are numerous factors that contribute to excess free radical production in the body. These include:

  • lifestyle
  • obesity
  • diets high in processed foods, fat and sugar
  • environmental factors like radiation and pollution
  • smoking or using tobacco products
  • alcohol
  • certain medical conditions
  • exposure to industrial chemicals

It's important to note that long-term free radicals can damage the body’s proteins, cells and DNA, causing premature aging and several health conditions.


What are the effects of oxidative stress on the body?

Oxidative stress can affect several aspects of health. The imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals can lead to a variety of long-term health conditions. Some of the major ones include:

Heart failure

A reduced antioxidant level and excess oxidative stress in the body can lead to heart failure. Antioxidants are responsible for preventing a variety of heart conditions, like cardiac myocytes and cardiac hypertrophy. When antioxidants decrease, it leads to a rise in these conditions, causing cardiovascular problems like heart failure.

Cancer

Oxidative stress damages the DNA and stimulates cancer growth in the body. That happens when the cells and the molecule levels are triggered by free radicals.

Hypertension

It's linked to high blood pressure. (Photo via Pexels/Cottonbro Studio)
It's linked to high blood pressure. (Photo via Pexels/Cottonbro Studio)

Oxidative stress is also linked to hypertension or high blood pressure. When there's an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants, hypertension becomes prevalent and causes several other vascular diseases, too.

Cardiovascular disease

Excess oxidative stress also increases risk of cardiovascular disease. Factors like obesity, unbalanced diet, hyperglycemia, stress and smoking increase risk of cardiovascular disease. It impacts cholesterol level, too, and results in vascular disease and plaque build-up.

Neurological disease

An imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants has also been linked to numerous neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis depression and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). That leads to damage, which enhances lost neurons and results in dementia progression.

Moreover, oxidative stress can also lead to inflammatory conditions like respiratory disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, asthma and atherosclerosis.


What are the signs that indicate free radicals are affecting your body?

Here are the major signs to look out for:

  • joint pain
  • memory loss
  • fatigue
  • brain fog
  • vision problems
  • wrinkles and gray hair
  • sensitivity to noise
  • headaches

How can you prevent oxidative stress?

While it's not possible to manage free radical exposure, several things can be done to reduce their effects on the body.

Increase antioxidant production in body

One of the best things you can do is increase the antioxidant level in your body. An increased level of antioxidants in the body will automatically reduce formation of free radicals.

To promote production of antioxidants, it's important to consume fruits, vegetables and other foods high in antioxidants. These include citrus fruits, broccoli, berries, tomatoes, carrots and leafy green vegetables.

Follow a regular exercise routine

Exercising has been linked to higher levels of antioxidants and a decreased level of damage caused by free radicals. Moreover, a regular exercise routine reduces effects of premature aging, risks of cancer, and most importantly, promotes a healthier and longer life.


A regular exercise routine improves antioxidant levels in the body. (Photo via Pexels/Jonathan Borba)
A regular exercise routine improves antioxidant levels in the body. (Photo via Pexels/Jonathan Borba)

Other lifestyle habits that can prevent the formation of free radicals in the body include quitting smoking and alcohol, wearing sunscreen every day, getting an adequate amount of sleep, avoiding overeating and becoming more environmentally friendly.

All these lifestyle choices can keep the body in balance and protect it against damage and diseases.

Edited by Bhargav