WHAT IS OXIDATIVE STRESS ?
Oxygen is essential for life, physicians and nutritionists are interested in what is happening inside body at a cellular level as oxygen enters through our nose and travels to lungs. Life is an intricately woven miracle, evident in every breath.
The molecules of oxygen pass through the thin walls of the alveoli in the lungs into the blood; here it attaches itself to the hemoglobin in the blood, and the beating heart pumps this newly oxygenated blood back out to all parts of the body. The hemoglobin then releases the oxygen so it can enter the cells where it gives energy and life itself.
The power generators within every cell in the body are called the mitochondria. It converts oxygen and nutrients (carbs, protein, fats ) into ATP which is the chemical energy of the cell that powers metabolic activities. Now, imagine yourself in front of a crackling and warm fire, it burns safely and quietly most of the time. But it out flies a cinder which lands on your carpet occasionally and burns a little hole in it, one cinder by itself does not pose much a threat; if this sparking continues year after year, decade after decade, you will end up with a ragged carpet in front of the fireplace.
Similarly, the mitochondria within the cell reduce oxygen by the transfer of electrons to create energy into ATP, and produces by-products: water and carbon dioxide. This process goes on without a hitch at least 98 percent of the time. However the full complement of four electrons needed to reduce oxygen to water does not always happen as planned, therefore a free radical is produced.
What is Free Radical? What does it do to our body?
A free radical is an oxygen containing molecule that has one or more unpaired electrons, making it highly reactive with other molecules. Free radicals can chemically interact with cell components such as DNA, protein or lipid and steal their electrons in order to become stabilized. This, in turn, destabilizes the cell component molecules which then seek and steal an electron from another molecule, therefore triggering a large chain of free radical reactions known as oxidative stress.
This oxidative stress is the one of the main causes of chronic degenerative diseases; the cinder from the fireplace represents a free radical, and the carpet represents your body. Whichever part of the body receives the most free radical damage is the first to wear out and potentially develop degenerative disease.
In fact, oxidative stress happens under many circumstances including:
Cigarette smoke, directly inhaled or secondhand
Toxic chemical compounds and pollutants in our body
Too much sugar, hydrogenated fats, artificial food colorings and flavorings
Exposure to plastics, phthalates and chemical cleaning supplies in daily life
When the immune system is fighting off bacteria and creating inflammation
Pollution of our food, water and air
When we are emotionally stressed
When we exercise excessively
Exposure to ultraviolet sunlight
OUR ALLIES: ANTIOXIDANTS
What are antioxidants for?
The nature did not leave us defenseless against the onslaught of free radicals. An antioxidant is any substance that can give up an electron to a free radical and balance out the unpaired electron, which neutralizes the free radical and render them harmless. Our body produces three major antioxidants: the superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase. However, our body do not produce all the antioxidants we need, the rest of antioxidants must obtain from food or nutritional supplements. If adequate amounts of antioxidants are available for free radical produced, less damage is wrought to our body.
We must keep the offensive and defensive equally matched. In other word, we must be armed with more antioxidants than free radicals. Most antioxidants are from vegetables and fruits and the common ones are vitamin C, E, and beta-carotene. We also can obtain numerous other antioxidants from food including coenzyme Q10, alpha-lipoic acid and the colorful bioflavonoid antioxidants.
These antioxidants each have specific roles. For example, vitamin C is water-soluble and therefore the best antioxidant to target frees radicals within the blood and plasma. Vitamin E is fat-soluble and is the best antioxidant within the cell membrane.
Every army needs a support system behind the battle lines and it is critical in the outcome of a war. Antioxidant soldiers need the availability of other nutrients in adequate amounts to fulfill their duties against the threat of free radicals. They are minerals such as copper, zinc, manganese and selenium, which aid in the chemical reactions of the antioxidants so they can do their job effectively.
The more antioxidants, the merrier! Our goal is to have more than enough antioxidants to neutralize the free radicals we produce; this can occur only when a complete and balanced army of antioxidants and minerals are available at all times. Nutrient-rich diet and regular high quality supplementation are the keys to winning this ongoing war.