Aging is an extremely complex and multifactorial process that proceeds to the gradual deterioration in functions. The term “oxidative stress” is mentioned all the time concerning the aging process. Oxidative stress is defined as a disturbance in the balance between the production of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) and antioxidant defenses. What does this mean? Mild oxidative stress results from healthy metabolism—oxidant by-products of reasonable metabolism cause extensive damage to DNA. The inflammation triggered by oxidative stress is the cause of many chronic diseases. This damage is a significant contributor to aging and to degenerative diseases of aging such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, immune-system decline, brain dysfunction, and more minor things such as wrinkles. Aging is normal and we should all feel lucky to be able to age! As a nutritionist, I simply offer some science and foods to help you age gracefully.
The oxidation process happens as our bodies metabolize (or process) the oxygen that we breathe, and our cells produce energy from it. This process also produces free radicals that interact with the molecules within our cells, resulting in damage (or stress) to nearby cells, mitochondria, and DNA (our genes).
Free radicals are normal and necessary to some degree. In addition to causing some damage, they also stimulate repair. There are millions of processes taking place in our bodies at any one moment that can result in oxidation. Only when the amount of free radicals produced overwhelms, the repair processes becomes an issue. That is what we call oxidative stress. Oxidation happens under many circumstances, including when our cells use glucose to make energy, when the immune system is fighting off bacteria and creating inflammation, and when our bodies detoxify pollutants, pesticides, and cigarette smoke.
Take away: Oxidative stress happens when the amount of free radicals exceeds the number of antioxidants. That’s when oxidation damages our cells, proteins, and our DNA (genes). The main thing you can do is increase your antioxidants levels and decrease your formation of free radicals. One method of preventing oxidative stress is to ensure that you’re obtaining enough antioxidants in your diet.
Watch excess consumption of sugars and carbohydrates. Extra glucose hanging out in the bloodstream, wreaks havoc by increasing the production of free radicals, increasing inflammation, damaging our cells, and causing oxidative stress.
Antioxidant defenses against this damage include ascorbate, tocopherol, and carotenoids. Dietary fruits and vegetables are the principal source of ascorbate and carotenoids and are one source of tocopherol. Low dietary intake of fruits and vegetables doubles the risk of most types of cancer compared to high consumption and markedly increases the risk of heart disease and cataracts.
How Can We Prevent Oxidative Damage?
Eat an antioxidant-rich, whole-foods diet.
Avoid rancid vegetable oils.
Alleviate chronic stress, which causes oxidative stress when allowed to continue unabated.
Reduce environmental toxin exposure.
Supplement with vitamin C
One of the most potent antioxidants is glutathione, which is produced by the body. I discussed this in my liver blog yesterday and am expanding on it here.
More foods that help your body to make more glutathione include:
You can also support your body to make more glutathione by eating foods that are high in sulfur:
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, collards, and cabbage
Eat foods that are high in antioxidants every day. As you know, these tend to be the foods that are the most colorful, for example:
Other good sources of antioxidants include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Green and black tea
And herbs such as:
- Curcumin ( turmeric)
You’re beautiful as is, just know that the more anti-oxidants you eat, the better you can counter oxidation and prevent oxidative stress.
Rust never sleeps as Neil Young sings. Eat those veggies to slow down the rust.
Christina C Wilson MS, CNS, LN