Oxidative stress occurs in the body when there’s an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that have an uneven number of electrons, which enables them to react more easily with other molecules. As a result, they can trigger chain reactions in a process known as oxidation.
Antioxidants, on the other hand, can donate an extra electron molecule to free radicals without risking instability. Thereafter, the free radical will become stable, and thus less prone to start a reaction.
How Does Oxidative Stress Affect the Body?
Oxidation isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, it’s a necessary process. Yet, when the ratio of free radicals to antioxidants becomes imbalanced, oxidative stress occurs. When they’re functioning effectively and kept under control by antioxidants, free radicals play an important role in fighting off pathogens.
Yet, when there are too many free radicals and not enough antioxidants, free radicals can start damaging DNA, proteins, and fatty tissue. Over time, this damage can result in:
- High blood pressure
- Inflammatory conditions
- Atherosclerosis (the hardening of blood vessels)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Neurodegenerative illnesses
- Heart disease
- Accelerate the aging process
What Leads to Oxidative Stress?
It’s impossible to avoid exposure to free radicals completely. The body even produces them naturally, when inflammation occurs after exercise, for instance. Yet, you can also be exposed to unhealthy free radicals from:
- Certain chemicals, including some cleaners and pesticides
- Cigarette smoke
- An unhealthy diet with too much sugar, fat, and alcohol
How Can You Control Oxidative Stress?
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to control your exposure to free radicals. Aim to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, as this will help give your body the nutrients it needs to create antioxidants. Fish, nuts, onion, garlic, and cinnamon may also be good choices to incorporate into your diet.
Maintaining a moderate exercise routine over a long-term basis can also help control oxidative stress levels, as can using chemicals in moderation, wearing sunscreen, limiting alcohol content, and avoiding smoking.
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