Oxidative stress describes a state of metabolism in which there are more free radicals (reactive oxygen compounds). The body can normally neutralize these with the help of minerals, trace elements, vitamins, phytochemicals, essential fatty acids and amino acids. However, if these substances are missing or they are only insufficiently available, this results in an excess of free radicals, which can lead to irreversible damage in the body’s cells.
What is Oxidative Stress?
Oxidative stress is caused by the formation of too many free radicals. There are not enough antioxidants to break them down. Free radicals are particularly reactive oxygen compounds. These occur to a normal degree in the body’s own reactions, such as breathing. See gradinmath for What is Testicular Cancer.
However, there are various factors such as stress that can cause additional free radicals to form. When too many of these are circulating, they randomly react with other body cells before being destroyed in an oxidative reaction. So that everything in the organism stays in healthy balance, the body uses so-called antioxidants.
These are radical scavengers. These react with the free radicals in order to protect the other body cells from oxidation. However, if there are not enough antioxidants to bind the free radicals, this is referred to as oxidative stress.
The only question that remains is: What causes oxidative stress? Various stressors are possible for the increased formation of reactive oxygen compounds. These include, for example, inflammation in the body, poor nutrition, excessive consumption of nicotine and alcohol and emotional stress, for example at work or due to problems in the social environment.
However, excessive exposure to UV radiation, the absorption of environmental toxins such as pollutants from the air, heavy metals and pesticides or the use of certain medications such as antibiotics and hormone preparations can also promote oxidative stress.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
The consequences that oxidative stress can cause are manifold. The typical warning signs include tiredness, loss of performance and exhaustion. Lack of energy and an increased susceptibility to infections, chronic infections, high blood pressure and impaired wound healing are also noticeable in the case of oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is also significantly involved in the aging process because it impairs the regeneration and detoxification of the body’s cells. For example, oxidative stress can contribute to the premature formation of gray hair and skin aging.
Diagnosis & course of disease
In order to check whether oxidative stress is present, the antioxidant capacity in the blood can be determined. The test gives a good indication of the relationship between free radicals and antioxidants (radical scavengers). This is the so-called screening test, which records the important antioxidant protection factors.
The test also shows how well the body manages to neutralize free radicals. This diagnostic method is therefore ideal for early detection of a derailment of the antioxidative balance. This parameter is also used to control and optimize the treatment with antioxidants, which is based on a change in diet.
At the same time, the antioxidant test provides information about the extent and severity of the oxidative stress and thus enables an adequate therapy so that oxidative stress can be prevented. This is very important in order to avoid consequences, some of which can be serious.
Oxidation plays a major role in the aging process and in the development of various diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, hyperacidity, arteriosclerosis, diabetes and even cancer. However, it is important to note that oxidative stress can be one of several contributing factors.
Car and industrial emissions, particulate matter, UV radiation, cigarette smoke and pesticide residues in our food. Even the oxygen radicals contained in the air cause oxidative stress. Our body is constantly exposed to free radicals. This ongoing oxidative stress can damage our genetic material and promote various diseases.
Oxidative stress has a negative effect on cell renewal in our body because it interferes with cell division. Telomeres are located at the end of each chromosome strand. These are very important for cell division. They ensure that the complete DNA is decoded and read. With each cell division, they become shorter. The shorter the telomeres become, the greater the risk of incomplete reading of the DNA and the associated functional disorders.
This is how DNA can be damaged. As a result, genes as well as cell lipids and proteins can be disrupted in their function. Oxidative stress accelerates telomere shortening. Therefore, oxidative stress favors the development of chronic neurodegenerative diseases and inflammatory diseases of the central nervous system.
For example, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease or Parkinson’s disease can be caused in this way. Furthermore, oxidative stress can also trigger hardening of the arteries and coronary heart disease. Tumor formation and the development of cancer can also be promoted due to the DNA damage caused. The mutations of the genes, the disturbed DNA repair mechanism and defective proteins contribute to this.
When should you go to the doctor?
If signs of a metabolic disorder are noticed, medical advice is required. Skin changes, deficiency symptoms or cardiovascular problems should be clarified immediately, as they indicate a serious cause. A specialist can answer whether the symptoms are caused by oxidative stress. He or she can also initiate treatment directly and alleviate the causal metabolic disorder by administering suitable medication and other measures. Individuals who have had metabolic problems for a long time or have another medical condition that may cause oxidative stress should inform their doctor about the symptoms and signs.
The pathological metabolic situation can be treated well if it is recognized in good time. Delayed treatment can lead to serious illnesses and conditions. In most cases, taking dietary supplements is sufficient to completely eliminate the symptoms. In the case of a severe metabolic disorder, further medical measures may be necessary. Since oxidative stress cannot be eliminated without medical help, a medical examination is always necessary. In the case of chronic complaints, the cause must be determined and also treated as far as possible. This can be achieved by changing the diet, but also by administering metabolic medication.
Treatment & Therapy
Ultimately, oxidative stress does not cause diseases, but encourages them to develop. It is therefore all the more important for health care to reduce it as much as possible. This is possible with various measures, for example by quitting smoking and reducing stress in everyday life.
In addition, a healthy and balanced diet is very important, because this ensures that an optimal balance (oxidative homeostasis) is restored. The wrong diet is a serious factor in the development of oxidative stress. For example, too much protein, short-chain carbohydrates and industrially manufactured foods should be avoided.
Many of the foods do not provide enough micronutrients or antioxidants, because these are often lost through the production process and long storage. Micronutrients such as vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin E, provitamin A and zinc provide the body with important support in reducing oxidative stress.
The coenzyme Q 10 also seems to be very effective. It is said not only to reduce free radicals, but also to help repair cells. Fresh fruit and vegetables in particular contain numerous different antioxidants and should therefore be an integral part of the diet.
The same applies to whole grain products, legumes, high-quality vegetable oils and nuts. Recommended therapy measures include a change in diet, infusion therapy with antioxidants and/or detoxification.
In the case of severe disease progressions such as neurological diseases or cancer, infusion therapy is often the only way to intervene effectively and avert oxidative stress.
Outlook & Forecast
Ultimately, oxidative stress does not cause diseases, but it does encourage their development. It comes down to creating a balance of oxidants and antioxidants. In this way, the detoxification and repair function of the cells can be ensured. However, the body can only produce the antioxidants itself to a limited extent – they must therefore be supplied through food or dietary supplements.
In the case of oxidative stress, it depends on the stress level, which must be checked regularly. If there are no abnormalities, the treatment can usually be completed. However, it is not uncommon for concomitant diseases to develop as a result of oxidative stress. Typical stress diseases are high blood pressure and circulatory disorders – they must be examined regularly.
With a balanced and healthy diet in combination with regular but not excessive exercise, the prospect and prognosis are good that oxidative stress will be effectively prevented or will not occur in the first place.
An additional supply of food supplements is normally not necessary. An overdose of antioxidants even turns out to be negative for the body – the harm then outweighs the benefit. Alcohol consumption and smoking also put a strain on the body.
Oxidative stress can be prevented if there is a balance between the oxidants and the antioxidants, the body’s own radical scavengers. As a result, the detoxification and repair function of a cell is maintained. However, the body can only produce a small amount of the antioxidants itself, so they have to be supplied through food or dietary supplements.
A healthy and balanced diet containing plenty of fruit and vegetables, regular exercise and low consumption of nicotine and alcohol are basic requirements. The food you buy should be of organic quality, because natural foods usually contain several antioxidants.
These work synergistically, so that the health value is higher than with vitamin preparations. A balanced diet creates a good basis for an optimal antioxidant balance.
Follow-up care for oxidative stress focuses on regular stress level monitoring. At the same time, the therapy must be coordinated and possibly adjusted. A change in diet must be discussed with the doctor. Health problems and the well-being of the patient are discussed as part of the anamnesis.
A comprehensive physical examination is only necessary if the symptoms are severe. Usually only the pulse is measured. However, if necessary, the doctor can also take blood or carry out imaging tests. Follow-up care is provided by the doctor who made the original diagnosis and took over the treatment.
If no abnormalities are found, the treatment can be completed. In most cases, however, concomitant diseases have already developed as a result of the oxidative stress. Typical stress diseases such as high blood pressure or circulatory disorders must be examined regularly.
The follow-up care then sometimes lasts for years, whereby the high stress level may have already been cured, but the concomitant diseases require independent therapy. Chronically ill patients must consult the doctor at least once a week. The family doctor is responsible. The doctor consults the patient’s medical record during the follow-up care and, depending on the result of the examination, initiates further measures.
You can do that yourself
Since oxidative stress itself does not cause diseases, but greatly promotes them, it is advisable to take preventive measures to counteract them. This can be set up well with a healthy lifestyle.
The first rule is to avoid risk factors for free radical formation. This includes above all smoking, but also high alcohol consumption and a stressful everyday life. However, the most important thing is a healthy and balanced diet. It should be free of ready meals, because the more processed a food is, the lower its vitamin content. An excess of free radicals occurs when the body does not have enough antioxidantsbe supplied. Foods high in antioxidants are fruits (especially berries, kiwis, apples and cherries), vegetables (peppers, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, lettuce), fish, game meat, nuts and high-quality oils. Combining these foods with wholesome carbohydrates, paying attention to whole grains, promotes the breakdown of free radicals in the body.
In general, it is important to make the diet as varied as possible. Those who, like many athletes, rely on a diet consisting only of proteins and simple carbohydrates promote oxidative stress. You should also pay attention to sufficient exercise in everyday life and avoid stress in general. Active or passive relaxation techniques are suitable for this.