Experts believe oxidative stress causes a number of undesirable effects on your body. It damages DNA, a problem that could lead to cancer, and is linked with aging. You can’t completely avoid oxidative stress, also known as free-radical damage. That’s because it happens every time your cells are exposed to oxygen – and cells need oxygen. When molecules inside cells come into contact with oxygen, it “oxidizes” them, causing them to lose an electron and become unstable. These unstable molecules can go on to damage cellular components like DNA and cell membranes.
You can’t completely avoid oxidative stress. In fact, some degree of oxidative stress may be beneficial because it “ramps up” your body’s defenses against it. On the other hand, you don’t want this type of stress raging out of control. Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce the amount of oxidative stress your cells are exposed to.
Look Closely at Your Diet
That diet would be a factor in oxidative stress is hardly a surprise. Compounds in foods you eat including pesticides, trans-fats and some chemicals in processed food increase oxidative stress. On the other hand, fruits, vegetables, nuts and unprocessed grains contain natural antioxidants that counteract the effects of free radicals that cause oxidative cell damage. The solution? Cut back on processed foods and eat more whole foods, especially fruits and veggies.
Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin C and vitamin E in your diet too. These are two antioxidant vitamins that counteract free radicals. Vitamin E is important for preventing oxidative damage to cells membranes. Green tea and coffee is also rich in cell-protective antioxidants and a good alternative to soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages.
Watch How You Cook Your Food
Cooking meat to a high temperature in the absence of water causes damaging compounds called advanced glycation end products or AGEs to form. These AGEs cause oxidative stress and cross-link with proteins, damaging them. That’s why grilling and broiling meat isn’t the healthiest way to prepare it. Poaching, steaming or sautéing is better from an AGE standpoint.
If you can’t resist the taste of grilled meat, marinate it in an acidic marinade like something vinegar-based before grilling it. This reduces the formation of AGEs. AGEs are also found naturally in high-fat meat and dairy foods and processed foods. You can reduce the amount of AGEs your cells have to deal with by substituting more fish for fatty meats, cooking them with “wet” cooking methods at a lower temperature and limiting processed foods.
Avoid Exposure to Chemicals That Cause Oxidative Stress
You can’t completely avoid them, but limit your exposure to environmental pollutants as much as possible – and don’t smoke. Take a closer look at the cosmetics and personal care products you’re putting on your skin. Some of the chemicals in these products can be absorbed into your bloodstream. Look for ones that are organic or as natural as possible and avoid products with synthetic fragrances. The same goes for household products.
Exercise but Not Too Exhaustion
Research shows that regular exercise increases your body’s ability to counter oxidative stress. It seems to increase the activity of the “master antioxidant” called glutathione. To maximize the amount of glutathione your cells are exposed to, you also need enough protein in your diet. Glutathione plays an important role in minimizing exercise-related stress, so make sure you’re eating a balanced diet.
Exercise enhances your body’s ability to deal with oxidative stress, but avoid doing long periods of endurance exercise. Exhaustive exercise can overwhelm your body’s defenses against free radical damage. Allow adequate recovery between exercise sessions, and plan rest time into your routine to avoid overtraining. Exercise places significant stress on your body and you need time to recover.
The Bottom Line?
Oxidative stress is hard to completely avoid but you can limit its impact on your health through regular exercise, avoiding exposure to toxins in personal care and household products, limiting processed foods and eating more whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables – and what could be more important than the health of your cells?
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