Oxidation in Our Body: Bane or Boon
Dr. Kirti Singh

Dr. Kirti Singh

May 09General wellness

Oxidation in Our Body: Bane or Boon

Oxidation is a normal human body reaction that may further result in oxidative stress - that occurs due to an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. The surplus number of these free radicals allows them to easily react with other molecules and cause large chain chemical reactions in your body because they react so easily with other molecules. Oxidation reactions can be both beneficial and harmful for our bodies.

What are Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), endogenous oxidants and free radicals?

ROS are metabolic byproducts, meaning they are generated as part of the natural reactions that happen in your body. They have high reactivity and are oxygen-based chemical intermediates such as superoxide radicals (O2•−), hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), hydroxyl radicals (•OH), and singlet oxygen (O-).

Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules with an unpaired electron which makes them highly reactive. They circulate all throughout the body cells and tissues seeking to pair this extra electron. This behaviour leads to oxidation and damage to these cells, tissues, DNAs and proteins and is believed to be a causative factor of various heart diseases, autoimmune disorders and adult-type diabetes.

Respiration is one of the particularly important reduction processes for our bodies where a number of oxidative byproducts are broken down or used up, thus reducing the ROS load in our bodies.

Does our body naturally produce free radicals?

  • Free radicals, aka the main culprits behind oxidative damage in our bodies are produced as a result of energy-generating reactions in our body. When we are fighting off an infection, in particular, or are exposed to certain drugs and chemicals, the production of these radicals increases.
  • Sometimes if the production of free radicals increases far more than our body’s natural antioxidant capacity, oxidative stress results.
  • This oxidative stress is responsible for long term damage to multiple organs and also for accelerated ageing.

What causes oxidative damage in daily life?

The primary reasons identified for oxidative damage are:

1. Consumption of rancid vegetable oils -

  • Most of the commercially and industrially used oils are plant-based eg: Safflower, Canola, Palm, Soybean etc.
  • These oils are rich in omega-6 unsaturated fats, which are unstable and get easily damaged under light and heat, especially in cooking temperatures. Heating and reheating further oxidise them.
  • These ’rancid fats or oils’ produce Advanced lipid oxidation end products ( ALEs) which when consumed, are extremely damaging to the cells in our body and render natural oxidants ineffective or powerless.
  • Omega-6 fatty acids are not the culprit here. It's the handling and processing of these oils which leads to harm. Fresh, whole foods like poultry, avocados, and nuts are high in omega-6, and still can be part of a healthy diet. 

2. Inadequate antioxidants -

  • Nutritionists advise consuming natural diet-based antioxidants rather than opting for supplements, as these lack certain cofactors and enzymes required for their proper absorption.
  • Colourful fruits, vegetables and grass-fed meats are the best sources of antioxidants.

3. Smoking and Alcohol -

  • Intoxication like smoking and drinking causes an increase in free radicals that generate oxidative stress by reducing the circulation of antioxidants in the body.
  • These habits can also overall impact the body’s immune system and deteriorate life quality.

4. Toxins present in the air -

  • It is no secret that the environment we currently live in is a health hazard. The polluted air around us is carrying harmful particles that can cause oxidative damage to the body, after being exposed to it for long.
  • Plastic, metals, pesticides, old concrete constructions, etc - also induce oxidation that results in oxidative stress.

5. Irregular Circadian Rhythm -

  • The antioxidant enzymes work in sync with the circadian rhythm of the body.
  • Disruptive sleeping patterns can cause disruption in circadian rhythms and in turn affect oxidative stress markers. Blue light from devices also induces accelerated oxidative stress.

5. Increase in Iron levels -

  • When excess iron is accumulated in the body, several chronic diseases like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, etc are developed.
  • When the body suffers from such diseases, hydroxyl free radicals are generated which promote oxidative stress.

Detrimental effects of oxidants on health

If oxidative stress is not strictly controlled, it can accelerate the body’s natural process of ageing and increase the risk for various acute and chronic diseases.

  1. Cancer- According to research, DNA mutation and damage is a major factor in the development of cancerous tissue growth in our bodies. Oxidation has been implicated as a cause of this DNA damage. Oxidative stress has been believed to lead to chromosomal abnormalities and activation of oncogenes or cancer-causing genes.
  2. Heart diseases- latest research proves that oxidative stress is the primary or secondary cause of heart and blood vessel diseases like hypertension, cardiomyopathy, heart failure, etc. A trigger for atherosclerosis i.e deposition of plaque in the arteries and eventually leading to increased production of ROS.
  3. Respiratory diseases- Research suggests that endogenous as well as exogenous oxidants are responsible for long term inflammation in the lung tissues, thus leading to Asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and other lung problems.
  4. Kidney diseases- Acute Kidney Infection (AKI) and Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), both have been associated with oxidative stress, caused by depletion of antioxidants as well as increased ROS production.
  5. Rheumatoid Arthritis- Oxidative stress biomarkers in patients, clearly implicate its role in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis. The long term presence of these inflammatory and bio reactive byproducts results in damage to the synovial joints.
  6. Neurological disease- research shows the implication of oxidative degeneration by the free radicals in the following diseases of neurological origin- Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

What are the risk factors?

  1. Environmental factors - Ozone exposure, UV Rays, pesticides, cleaners, air pollutants and microplastics generate loads of free radicals in our bodies.

  2. Dietary factors - A diet high in sugar, fat, and processed food may also contribute to free radical production. Excess iron in the body is associated with the generation of hydroxyl free radicals, which cause harm.

  3. Lifestyle factors - Smoking cigarettes, heavy exercises, alcohol consumption, eating a lot of junk and processed food are factors of an unhealthy lifestyle. These are sources of large quantities of free radicals produced in the body.

  4. Stress - Psychological stress is one of the most harmful things for the body and it only makes it worse with time. It keeps us in fight or flight mode, leading to inflammatory byproducts into the blood circulation.

Some signs of oxidative stress

It’s best to reexamine your lifestyle if you are struggling with any of the following symptoms -

  1. Fatigue - feeling tired often or most of the time
  2. Memory loss, feeling a lack of clarity and being unable to focus
  3. Muscle and/or joint pain
  4. More frequent greying of hair and dull skin with pigmentation and wrinkles
  5. Headaches and sensitivity to noise
  6. More frequent infections

How to prevent and manage oxidative stress?

  1. Diet - One must follow and consume a good, balanced and nourishing diet.
  • Have foods rich in Vitamins A, C, E.
  • Rainbow foods i.e colourful foods such as tomatoes, bell peppers,
  • Berries- Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries,
  • Lemons, carrots, leafy greens are all great sources of natural antioxidants.
  • Opting for green tea is also a great idea.

2. Lifestyle choices - Exercise induces the production of free radicals in the short run, however, in the long run, leads to the production of antioxidants.

3. Treat infections - Inflammation can cause an increase in free radicals. It is important to treat the infections and manage diseases timely, to avoid such risk.

4. Check on circadian rhythms - Following a proper sleeping routine can bring the circadian rhythm on track and encourage better metabolism and balance of oxidants.

5. Balanced Iron intake - Keep a check on the consumption of iron, as iron overload can cause oxidative stress.

6. Antioxidant supplements - Consumption of Vitamin E and flavonoids can prevent the risk of oxidative stress.

Disclaimer - This information is provided for educational purposes and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare practitioners before undertaking any changes in your diet or adding supplements.

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