Oxidative stress, though often overlooked, is closely linked to our well-being and quietly influences our health. It occurs when there’s an imbalance between the production of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) and the body’s ability to counteract their harmful effects. While ROS are natural byproducts of essential cellular processes, excessive levels cause serious problems in our cells, contributing to ageing, chronic diseases, and other health issues. The good news is that our dietary choices play an important role in mitigating the impact of oxidative stress.
Let us understand the relationship between oxidative stress and cellular damage, explore the array of nutrients that can help combat its effects, and gain insight into creating a diet that promotes optimal health and well-being.
What is Oxidative Stress in the Human Body?
At its core, oxidative stress is a complex biochemical process that involves the interaction of ROS and antioxidants within the body. ROS are generated naturally during various metabolic processes, including energy production within cells. They also emerge as byproducts of external factors such as exposure to pollution, radiation, and certain chemicals. While ROS play critical roles in cell signaling and immune response, their excess accumulation poses a threat.
When ROS overwhelm the body’s natural antioxidant defenses, they can initiate a chain reaction of cellular damage. ROS are highly reactive and can attack cellular components such as DNA, proteins, and lipids. This damage, known as oxidative damage, plays a role in the ageing process, inflammation, and the emergence of persistent illnesses, encompassing cardiovascular conditions, neurodegenerative ailments, and cancer.
What Nutrients Reduce Oxidative Stress?
Antioxidants are the unsung heroes in the battle against oxidative stress. These compounds neutralise ROS and prevent them from causing harm to our cells. A diverse range of nutrients act as antioxidants, each playing a specific role in maintaining cellular health:
- Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid): This water-soluble vitamin is a potent scavenger of free radicals. It helps protect cells against oxidative harm and facilitates the renewal of additional antioxidants, like vitamin E.
- Vitamin E (Tocopherols): As a fat-soluble antioxidant, vitamin E specialises in preventing lipid peroxidation, a process where free radicals attack the fats in cell membranes.
- Enzymes like Superoxide Dismutase (SOD): These enzymes catalyse the breakdown of superoxide radicals, a particularly harmful type of ROS. SOD plays a critical role in maintaining the balance between ROS production and elimination.
- Trace Elements: Selenium and zinc, often present in trace amounts in our diets, are integral components of various antioxidant enzymes. They help bolster the body’s antioxidant defence mechanisms.
- Phytonutrients: Found abundantly in colourful fruits, vegetables, and herbs, phytonutrients like flavonoids and carotenoids offer powerful antioxidant protection. These compounds are responsible for the vibrant hues of plant-based foods and contribute to their health benefits.
- Diverse Diet: Consuming a variety of foods ensures that you receive a spectrum of antioxidants, each with its unique mechanism of action. This diversity enhances your body’s ability to counteract a wide range of ROS.
How Does Diet Affect Oxidative Stress?
The food we eat can affect how much oxidative stress our body has. Knowing how our diet and oxidative stress are connected, and choosing healthier foods, can really help improve our overall health. Below we help you understand the role of diet with some guidelines for you to keep in mind when making your food choices.
Foods you must avoid
- Processed Sugars and Trans Fats: Diets high in processed sugars and trans fats can lead to higher levels of ROS, which are the culprits behind oxidative stress.
- Additives and Artificial Ingredients: Foods containing additives and artificial ingredients may also contribute to increased ROS production and heightened oxidative stress.
- Seed oils. These are highly processed and have high levels of omega-6 fatty acids which can create inflammation. The risk of inflammation is most severe when a balanced ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids is not present. Consumption of seed oils worsens this imbalance and leads to inflammation. The use of olive oil, coconut oil, or avocado oil, is recommended as these are less processed than seed oils.
Foods that nourish your body for optimal defence against oxidative stress
- Whole Foods: Opting for whole, unprocessed foods provides your body with essential nutrients, some of which act as antioxidants, helping to counterbalance the effects of oxidative stress.
- Plant-Powered Choices: Incorporating a variety of plant-based foods, such as colourful fruits and vegetables, can supply your body with phytonutrients that combat ROS and support antioxidant defence mechanisms.
The Power of the Mediterranean Diet
- A Holistic Approach: The Mediterranean diet, renowned for its emphasis on whole foods like fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, has been associated with lower oxidative stress levels.
- Abundant Antioxidants: With a wealth of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, the Mediterranean diet acts as a robust shield against the harmful effects of oxidative damage.
Healthy Habits to Tackle Oxidative Stress
- Calorie Restriction: Restricting your calorie intake and practising intermittent fasting can trigger stress response pathways in your cells. This triggers the activation of antioxidant defences and cellular repair mechanisms, helping to manage oxidative stress.
Forging a Healthier Future
A key takeaway from what we have understood from the correlation between oxidative stress and your cells – what you eat matters a lot. Antioxidants are an effective defence against ROS. While it is natural for your body to have both antioxidants and free radicals, when the balance is disturbed for a prolonged period of time, OS leads to tissue and cellular damage and diseases.
You can avoid this by making smart food choices. Eating well and exercising regularly are essential to create a healthy environment for your body and mind.
At Helvetica Health Care, we believe that efficient testing and diagnostics products are crucial in building a healthier future for our species collectively. Explore our curated range of OXIDATIVE STRESS assay kits and standards designed to assist in exploring oxidative stress markers and metabolites in human and animal samples and samples exposed to drugs and foods.
The TBARS (Thiobarbituric Acid Reactive Substances) assay has become the assay of choice for screening and monitoring lipid peroxidation, a primary indicator of oxidative stress. The assay can be used with many types of samples, including drugs, food products and material of human and animal origin, and provides standardised and reproducible results.
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