To understand how to prevent oxidative damage we first off need to understand what it is. In our bodies we use reactions with oxygen to create energy. We breathe in oxygen and use it in our cells. Without it our cells would die. With most reactions in our body we end up with a waste product that we need to get rid of (could be uric acid, carbon dioxide etc). In this reaction one of the waste products could be something called a 'free radical'. This is an oxygen particle that is in a particularly 'reactive' state. This means when it's whizzing around our bodies it's quite likely to bash into stuff and cause damage. When it does this we call it oxidative damage. Simple (kind of).
This free radical that whizzes round can cause damage to a number of things, all of which have important roles to play in our bodies. It can damage pretty much anything in your body but some important things it impacts are proteins, fats and even our DNA. When these things get damaged over a long period of time and in enough of our cells our bodies start to show the impact. Oxidative damage causes slow, gradual impacts on our health and can lead to all sorts of diseases such as asthma, arthritis, cancer, renal damage, IBS and systemic inflammation - all not good.
Usually it's not really a great worry though as our bodies naturally evolved ways of preventing this oxidative damage. We have our own natural defence network against these free radicals known as antioxidants work by throwing themselves in the line of fire and getting oxidised themselves, instead of allowing the important molecules in our body to take the hit. Very heroic!
That's good news so far then. Yes we produce toxic chemicals as part of our daily life, but we also have a way of getting rid of them (remember our article about homeostasis - balance in the body). A problem starts to occur when this goes out of balance. When we start exposing our bodies to things that increase the amount of free radicals we produce our bodies can't keep up and the oxidative stress in our bodies goes through the roof. Below are a number of different things that can cause increased formation of these free radicals:
- excessive stress
- excessive exercise
- excessive sunlight
- air / water pollution
- what we eat
That list can look a bit scary, but the important word is 'excessive'. Most of us will not venture into the realms of excessive exercise or sunlight (at least in England!) but excessive stress is probably effecting a lot of us. Also, diets laden with food additives, poor quality meat and vegetables, high sugar content and trans-fatty acids (found in lots of processed foods) will all increase free radical formation.
What should you do to reduce your free radical formation then? Not surprisingly, it's pretty much the same advice as you hear from us quite often:
- reduce stress
- don't over exercise (especially endurance exercise)
- get sunlight but avoid burning
- get out and about in nature for the fresh air
- eat a healthy diet (natural foods)
Take these steps and your free radical formation will drop and you'll be less likely to be causing ongoing damage to your body!
Posted by James