Oxidative stress is understood to be a precursor to over 200 chronic, degenerative diseases, and many auto-immune disorders.
The purpose of this post is to help you understand more about what brings about oxidative stress, and how you can limit the effects of this process as you age.
Oxidation and Glycation
When you cut an apple and wait, what happens? That brown color begins to appear….. a result of oxidation.
After sugar is heated and melts in a pan, or when vegetables are pan fried, the brown that occurs in these cases is a result of caramelization, which is a chemical change involving internal rearrangement of sugar molecules.
The physiological term for this is glycation. It is a similar chemical change that turns paper yellow over time.
This phenomena occurs normally in living systems. As we metabolize carbohydrates, sugars are formed in the body.
High levels of sugar in the blood cause damaging affects over time from the oxidative stress caused by glycation.
Doctors have long observed an increased number of age-related diseases in people with diabetes, including cataracts and atherosclerosis.
They know that this pathology is closely tied to the chemical reactions between glucose and proteins (glycation).
Wikipedia defines Oxidative stress as “an imbalance between the production and manifestation of reactive oxygen species and a biological system’s ability to readily detoxify the reactive intermediates or to repair the resulting damage.
Disturbances in the normal redox state of tissues can cause toxic effects through the production of peroxides and free radicals that damage all components of the cell, including proteins, lipids, and DNA.“
It is clear that the oxidative stress that results from an over abundance of sugar and acids in our system, can be insidiously devastating over time.
Age Spots are Signs of Accumulated Oxidative Stress
Another residual effect is the brown age pigment, evident in the spots that begin to appear on the skin as we age (usually referred to as ‘liver spots’).
This age pigment is called lipofuscin and is a mixture of free radical-damaged fats, proteins and metals, particularly iron.
Most knowledge on the accumulation of lipofuscin are from studies of the eye, where it is suspected to be related to the causes of macular degeneration.
Some experts believe that lipofuscin is a result of the interaction between cellular waste and free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules created by oxidation reactions.
Lipofuscin is a waste by-product of worn out cells that are not eliminated from the body, but deposited in places that are not even seen, such as the heart and brain.
All the more reason to keep your digestive system functioning well!
People with high sugar levels in their blood, including those who suffer with diabetics, are prone to more accelerated effects of aging.
And, not surprising then, recent studies now indicate that there is a direct correlation with the consistent level of blood sugar in the blood and the shrinkage of the hippocampus, the memory center of the brain. This leads to a suspicion of a connection to Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The free radical damage from excessive oxidative stress can causes a host of other issues, including acidosis, microform overgrowth, lipofuscin, cysts, tumors and other disease..
But what is oxidative stress and how does it come about?
The Mighty Mitochondria; Your Body’s Energy Burning Engine
The tiny thousands of bacterial mitochondria living in your cells are responsible for “burning” the fuel your body consumes and converting into usable energy. These mitochondria are optimized to create energy from your food and the oxygen you inhale.
Think of your cells as engines running on fuel, and expelling exhaust. Finely tuned engines run cleaner. When cells are in an optimum state of health, they burn energy efficiently.
Not-so-well-tuned engines produce thick, black smoke. Similarly, unhealthy cells operating inefficiently with low metabolism produce more exhaust, and acid. Toxic residue then begins to accumulate in and around the unhealthy cells (picture that black smoke stained tailpipe on a poorly running car).
In more biochemical terms, the mitochondria create energy by generating electrons. These electrons are normally transferred to adenosine triphosphate (ATP). But, with insulin resistance or heavy eating, this energy transfer is dysfunctional.
This is due to the excess electrons that then leak out, eventually killing the mitochondria prematurely. These excess electrons proceed to cause further damage to the cell membranes, even contributing to DNA mutations.
This includes damage to the Telomeres, protective ends of the DNA strands controlling the ability of cells to reproduce. Once these Telomeres are expended, cell death occurs.
And this is why many knowledgeable experts now believe this type of mitochondrial dysfunction is one of the keys to accelerated aging.
In other words, when you consume more calories than your body is immediately able to use, an excess of free electrons results, which back up inside your mitochondria, leading to production of excess free radicals.
And because of this toxic buildup, a natural inflammatory response occurs. The problem is that this inflammatory response becomes chronic, and can promote disease, including auto-immune disorders.
Free Radicals, Oxidation, and Oxidative Stress Explained
Oxidation is the term used to describe the process and removing electrons from the molecule. It strips electrons from other molecules, and can actually damage those molecules, rendering them defenseless or useless.
Oxidation results in the production of peroxides and free radicals that damage all components of the cell, including proteins, enzymes, lipids, and DNA.
Oxidation is not at all the same as oxygenation, which is the delivery of vital oxygen to the cells. The cells’ ability to absorb vital oxygen is actually compromised by oxidative stress.
Oxygen is destructive, however, as is evident in rust. We need it to live, but too much oxygen is toxic and corrosive to the body.
This is why living systems require defenses against oxidation.
These defense systems have evolved for different purposes over time, such as for protection against solar radiation, which when interacting with water, produces oxygen along with free radicals, the unstable elements that later cause damage to nearby cells.
In the effort to stabilize, these free radicals react with nearby molecules, stripping electrons from them. This effectively damages the protection these cells have against the free radicals.
This causes a chain reaction of more unstable molecules causing a domino effect. They stop the chaos only when two radicals react with each other such as to form a stable molecule or when the reaction is too weak to interact with another molecules.
In its extreme, this is the mechanism of radiation poisoning. This process damages DNA, proteins, cell membranes and other structures.
During respiration, metabolization of glucose with oxygen occurs, producing water and carbon dioxide. The dangerous molecules created are called reactive oxygen species, or ROS.
Two of these are free radicals (the hydroxyl radical and the superoxide radical, the most damaging); the third is hydrogen peroxide. Anti-oxidant defenses protect living things from oxidative stress, which is directly related to the development of age-related diseases.
Oxidative stress is the total burden placed on the body by the constant production of free radicals over the course of metabolization, in addition to the other environmental stresses such as toxins in food, water and air. Smoke is one of the most concentrated sources of free radicals.
Importance of Anti-Oxidants
Good health requires a balance of burning the fuel required to create energy, and minimizing the oxidation that occurs as a result. In other words, balance the oxidative stress with antioxidant defenses.
The inability of antioxidant defenses to cope with oxidative stress will cause defects in the DNA, proteins and membranes over time.
It can be concluded then, that if antioxidant defenses are strong, life without disease should be possible. According to Dr. Hari Sharma, a pathologist at Ohio State University, about 80 to 90 percent of diseases we encounter are linked to excessive production of free radicals in the body.
Oxidative stress and free radicals are known to be a precursor to many chronic diseases, including atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinsons’ disease, Fibromyalgia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and even cancer.
While it is true that antioxidants can be obtained from eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, these ‘direct antioxidants’ do not alone provide the protection against the billions of free radicals that we accumulate over time. The reason is that each of these direct antioxidant molecules is rendered inert after neutralizing one free radical.
But our bodies have is the ability to create even more powerful enzyme antioxidants metabolically in the pancreas, such as Superoxide Dismutase (SOD), Catalayse, and Glutithione. These super powerful antioxidants have the capability to neutralize tens of millions of oxidative stress producing free radicals every minute.
As we age, we naturally produce less of these important antioxidants. But, given proper nutrition, the body can recover its ability to produce these. The key is to supplement your body with what it needs to slow the effects of oxidative stress and aging. Juicing for example provides a powerful delivery of micronutrients.
While extreme exertion does produce more oxidation and free radicals, exercise also promotes more efficient metabolism and more of the crucial metabolic enzymes and antioxidants.
Sleep is another important component of your healthy body’s ability to process nutrients, produce needed enzymes, not to mention balancing hormones, and rebuilding cells.
Hopefully this post provides a context which gives you a clear view of how important diet and exercise, sleep and reducing toxic load are to your health!