We tend to think of oxygen as being essential to life. And it is. However, oxygen is actually corrosive – it’s what is responsible for corroding iron and for creating the patina on exposed copper. Oxygen’s corrosive effects go far beyond the world of physical objects around us. It also affects the world inside us. Oxidative stress is the term used to describe a situation in which free radicals and antioxidants within the body are out of balance.
What Is Oxidative Stress?
A study published in the journal Metabolism in 2000 defined and described oxidative stress as,
"a disturbance in the balance between the production of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) and antioxidant defenses."
The study goes on to highlight connections between oxidative stress and diseases like diabetes. In a nutshell, oxidative stress is nothing more than an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals within your body. This imbalance can have a number of harmful effects on your body. It plays a role in many of the lifestyle diseases we see in such high numbers today, like diabetes and hypertension.
What Are Free Radicals?
A free radical is nothing more than a molecule in your body that contains oxygen and has an uneven number of electrons. Because of that uneven number, they can create chain reactions within bodily systems and are considered highly reactive. Free radicals, like bullets, fly inside the tissues, injuring and damaging cells in their way.
What Are Antioxidants?
An antioxidant is a molecule capable of donating an electron to a free radical, stabilizing the free radical and making it less reactive. Antioxidants can be sourced in many ways, including from the foods we eat.
What Causes Oxidative Stress?
Oxidative stress is damaging, dangerous condition caused by having too many free radicals and too few antioxidants in the body. They are out of balance. Because of this, there are not enough antioxidants to donate electrons in sufficient quantities to stabilize all of the free radicals. Eventually, all the available antioxidants have given up their electrons, leaving a number of free radicals still destabilized and highly reactive.
In this situation, a number of unwanted outcomes can occur. For instance, you deplete your reserves of antioxidants, leaving your body at greater risk for invasion by pathogens and then infection. In addition, free radicals begin to attack other parts of the body, even its cellular structure.
- Your DNA
- The proteins in your body
- Fatty tissue
These attacks can lead to a host of different diseases. The imbalance itself can be caused by a number of factors, as well. For instance, it can happen when your body is fighting off infections, but it can also occur with exposure to radiation, such as during treatment for some types of cancer.
What Diseases Can Oxidative Stress Lead To?
As touched on already, oxidative stress is one of the most common underlying factors in many of the so-called lifestyle diseases that we see today. A lifestyle disease is one created by factors within our control, such as diet and exercise, rather than factors outside of our control, such as genetic mutations. A few of the diseases in which oxidative stress plays a role include:
- Heart disease
- Many degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease
- Inflammatory conditions
- Aging and aging-related conditions
Where Do Free Radicals Come From?
A number of free radicals are produced within your own body. Something as simple as exercising can do this. Even inflammation of body tissues can create free radicals. However, some can also be absorbed into the body from your surroundings and things within your environment. For instance, if you smoke, or are exposed to secondhand smoke, you can see an increase in your free radicals. If you are around pesticides and certain harsh chemical cleaners, free radicals can also increase. Environmental pollution and ozone can also be responsible.
It should also be noted that many researchers are now linking dietary factors to an increase in free radicals in the body. For instance, if you consume a significant amount of sugar, you can increase the concentration of free radicals in your body. The same thing applies to consuming fat and alcohol.
Signs of Oxidative Stress
Because many of the results of oxidative stress are considered ‘normal’, it can be difficult to recognize them for what they are. However, some of the most common include:
- Feeling fatigued
- Reduced immune system function/easily sick
- Graying hair
- Memory loss
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
- Changes in eyesight
The proliferation of free radicals and the ongoing damage from oxidative stress allows cellular mutations to occur. When mutated cells proliferate, they create a number of symptoms and eventually lead to diseases.
What Role Do Stem Cells Play in Reducing the Damage Done by Oxidative Stress?
Stem cells are the body’s healers. They’re the original cell type and differentiate into all types of tissue that eventually form the human body. They also remain present from birth through death, although their numbers do decline, as do their effectiveness at healing damage. As such, stem cells are being researched for their use in treating a host of different diseases and conditions, including combatting the effects of oxidative stress.
In a study published in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, the authors point out that,
"Accumulating evidence indicates that acute and chronic uncontrolled overproduction of oxidative stress-related factors including reactive oxygen species causes cardiovascular diseases, atherosclerosis, and diabetes."
The study goes on to explore the role of stem cells in alleviating these problems and challenges. Another study highlights the role of human mesenchymal stem cells in managing oxidative stress within the body.
Ultimately, stem cells combat oxidative stress by reducing and eliminating inflammation. However, allogeneic stem cells should be preferred over autologous stem cells, as the patient’s own cells have aged considerably, and have also accumulated the very mutations that allow free radicals to multiply in the first place.
Source:What is oxidative stress?
Therapeutic Strategies for Oxidative Stress-Related Cardiovascular Diseases: Removal of Excess Reactive Oxygen Species in Adult Stem Cells
Managing and preventing oxidative stress