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Causes: Oxidative Stress

Oxidative Stress 

Oxidative Stress is a good thing, or is it?  As living creatures we rely on oxygen to keep us alive.  We quite literally burn oxygen in the process of creating the molecules of energy called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).  As a by product of utilizing oxygen the cells of our body transfer electrons from one molecule to the next during this cellular respiration and the result is the creation of a low level “fire” or burn.  Damage is caused to our cells when too much gas (glucose) is poured on the fire such that electrons get out of control.  Electrons are powerful particles when contained, but when not, they can wreak havoc to the cells of our body.

The theory of oxidative stress contends that damage is caused by excess free radical electrons which contribute to aging and age-associated diseases.  What is a free radical?  Free radicals are molecules made unstable due to the loss of an electron.  Oxygen is the most frequent molecule in the human body to become a free radical.  We obtain oxygen from breathing.

How do free radicals come about?  They can occur in a variety of ways: smoking, high levels or prolonged periods of stress, sunshine, radiation exposure, over- exercising, etc.  Most free radicals are produced within the body.  Cells require energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).  ATP is manufactured in the mitochondria found in every cell in our body.  Food is transformed in the mitochondria to ATP.  The process requires respiration to provide oxygen.  In the process free radicals result.  The more food we eat the more respiration is required and the more oxygen-species free radicals are produced.  Eat less and make fewer free radicals.  It has been estimated that as much as 90 percent of the free radicals in our body are the result of eating.  Free radical scavengers, known as antioxidants, mop up the majority of free radicals, but it is easy to overwhelm them with too many free radicals.  When the body cannot keep up scavenging free radicals, it is called oxidative stress.

What do free radicals do to us?  Free radicals have been implicated in most aging-related diseases, including atherosclerosis, cancer, Alzheimers disease, cataracts, osteoarthritis, and immune deficiency.

The DNA in mitochondria is particularly susceptible to permanent damage, because, unlike nuclear DNA, mitochondrial DNA is incapable of repairing itself. Damaged mitochondria eventually lose their ability to provide energy to the remainder of the cell, in the form of ATP, further impairing us.  The difference in life spans among mammals is largely a result of the ability to repair damaged DNA.  The resulting destruction occurs in all tissues, including the endothelial wall of arteries, nerves in the brain, skin, etc.  Free radical damage to the microcapillary circulation in the body results in circulatory deficits.  Common associated problems include strokes, neuro-degeneration and macular degeneration.  The result is heart disease, certain cancers, dementias, etc.

We can address the matter by first reducing the rate of formation of free radicals (eat less, reduce stress, stop smoking, avoid radiation, over-exercise, etc.). Second, we can try to mop up free radical after they have formed by ingesting adequate amounts of antioxidants in our diet and with antioxidant nutritional supplementation.