Free Radials, Antioxidants, and Oxidative Stress
Do any of you remember the antioxidant craze that happened about ten years ago? When I think back on it now, it is quite comical to me. I was in my early twenties and someone told me to eat all of these foods high in antioxidants, so I did … and I ran with it! A time in my life full of blueberries, acai, and dark chocolate, and I truly had NO IDEA why – haha!
Over the last year or so, I have spent time studying the effects that different foods can have on our health and our bodies. In doing so, I have actually learned about antioxidants and oxidative stress.
I am here to tell you – antioxidants are good for us, and our bodies do need them – but I don’t think you should just take my word for it … I think you should know why. 🙂
To start, let’s define a few terms … (things really are easier to understand if we know what we are talking about, right?)
- Free Radical: a molecule that has an unpaired electron in its outer ring. It is an unstable molecule that the body produces as it processes food and reacts to environmental pressures.
- Oxidative Stress: the number of free radicals causing biological damage to a person’s body at any one time
- Antioxidant: a molecule that can sacrificially donate electrons to free radicals without becoming one themselves. Our bodies make some antioxidants naturally. We can also provide them through good nutrition and supplementation.
So, briefly, here is the process:
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As our bodies go through normal metabolism in processing food and reacting to life’s pressures, it produces free radicals. Those free radicals are unstable molecules, but they want to be balanced. In their efforts to become balanced, they steal electrons from other sources, thus creating more free radicals and causing a chain reaction that creates even more. By attacking proteins, nucleic acids and other critical components of the cell, these free radicals can damage our bodies and sabotage our metabolic processes; however, this is where the antioxidants come in to play. Antioxidants can donate electrons to free radicals without becoming one themselves – thus they neutralize the free radicals (without creating more) and decrease the damage they produce. Oxidation that creates free radicals is a normal process in the body, but when there is an imbalance between free radical activity and antioxidant activity, the result is high oxidative stress … and therein lies the problem.
High oxidative stress can wreak havoc on our bodies. The damage from free radicals that occurs in high oxidative stress states is directly related to decreased cellular metabolism, increased rate and signs of aging, deceased nervous and muscular functions, less readily produced hormones, and a vast number of illnesses and diseases. The good thing is, according to many sources, reducing the damage caused by high oxidative stress loads relies on a simple idea: decrease the number of free radicals.
So, how do we do that?
A few ways:
- Reduce activities that lead to free radical production. These include but are not limited to: smoking, drinking alcohol, excessive exercise (although some exercise is important), exposure to chemicals and radiation, high levels of stress, and consumption of certain foods (especially refined and processed foods, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, and certain dyes and additives).
- Increase the intake of antioxidants or foods that stimulate our body’s natural production of antioxidants. You can find lengthly lists of these online – most of which consistent of fruits and vegetables. Some others to note: glutathione, vitamin C, and vitamin E. By the way – we offer IV glutathione and vitamin C at our clinic!
- Get enough sleep! It is thought that sleep gives our bodies the change to repair and regenerate oxidative damages, so we need to makes sure we are giving ourselves enough of it. Easier said than done…I know! 😉
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Nowadays, if you search the internet for the term “antioxidant”, the amount of results you get in return is overwhelming. There is no shortage of resources telling you that you should make sure you are getting enough of them. The older I get though, the more I realize the importance of understanding why we do what we do. Why do we need exercise? Why do we need sleep? Why do we need to eat healthily? And to my twenty-something-year-old self-eating berries and dark chocolate – why do we need antioxidants? 🙂
I hope today’s post has been beneficial to you. If there is anything we can do for you or if you’re interested in oral supplements or IV antioxidants, please call the office. As always, we are here and eager to help you!