As we head into Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Dr Doni highlights one of our best strategies for preventing cancer—preventing oxidative stress.
The term “oxidative stress” is mentioned all the time in the realm of science and nutrition, but it is not often clear what it means for your health. In fact research indicates that oxidative stress is an underlying cause of cancer, so understanding and preventing it is a smart strategy for your wellness.
Today, I’m going to explain what it is, give you some signs to look out for, and some simple steps you can take to prevent it.
What is Oxidative Stress?
The process of oxidation 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 –molecules that interact with the molecules within our cells resulting in damage (or stress) to nearby cells, mitochondria (which I will explain further in a coming article), and DNA.
Free radicals are normal and necessary to some degree. In addition to causing some damage, they also stimulate repair. It is only when so many free radicals are produced, and they overwhelm the repair processes, that it becomes an issue. That is what we call oxidative stress.
Oxidation happens under a number of circumstances including:
- when our cells use glucose to make energy
- when the immune system is fighting off bacteria and creating inflammation
- when our bodies detoxify pollutants, pesticides, and cigarette smoke
In fact, there are millions of processes taking place in our bodies at any one moment that can result in oxidation.
It also increases when we are physically and/or emotionally stressed.
Why is it a problem?
Because the free radicals resulting from oxidation damage cells, proteins and our DNA (genes) and because oxidation itself is such a common process, the damage it can cause is significant. It is known to cause aging, grey hair, wrinkles, arthritis, decreased eye sight, and even cancer.
So, how can you tell if oxidative stress is occurring in your body? Here are five signs to look out for:
- Memory loss and/or brain fog
- Muscle and/or joint pain
- Wrinkles and grey hair
- Decreased eye sight
- Headaches and sensitivity to noise
- Susceptibility to infections
How to Reduce Oxidative Stress
There are two ways to reduce oxidative stress. Avoiding exposure to unnecessary oxidation and increasing anti-oxidants. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Decreasing Exposure to Oxidation
As I said at the top of this article, oxidation increases when we are exposed to stress, toxins, and infections. It is also increased by sugar and chemicals, so the more you can minimize your exposure to these things, the better – so choosing organic foods and avoiding toxins in your environment makes a big difference. Reducing stress helps too and can be done with what I refer to as “daily stress remedies”. Here are four steps you can take to reduce unnecessary oxidation in your body.
Step 1: Avoid sugar and processed foods while balancing your blood sugar levels
When the body has to process sugar it also creates oxidation and the more sugar we eat, the more oxidation happens. Processed foods often contain sugar and/or other chemicals that also result in oxidation. Eating large and infrequent meals also creates more oxidative stress, so balancing your blood sugar by eating smaller, frequent meals, also helps. To learn more about how to avoid sugar and to balance your blood sugar, click here.
Step 2: Prevent infections
When the immune system is fighting off an infection, it ends up creating oxidation which is why, when you get sick, it drains your body of energy. I encourage you to have a strategy to avoid catching colds and infections – check out my cold/flu survival guide here, and if you have been getting frequent infections, let’s meet and come up with a plan to prevent another. You can book an appointment here.
Step 3: Allow time for daily stress remedies
It seems so simple, but it really pays off. That’s why you need to build breaks into your day – to give your body a chance to recover. Be sure to honor the breaks in your schedule (or create them) and take them as a chance to enjoy the outdoors, breathe, and re-center. These are some ideas for daily stress remedies:
- Talking with a friend
- Enjoying nature
- Watching a funny show
- Taking a walk.
For a helpful one-page graphic that you can print out and stick on your wall to remind you, click here.
Step 4: Avoid toxins
Choose organic foods and avoid cigarettes, candles, hair and nail salons, carpet, exhaust fumes and plastic. Check your personal care and cleaning products for toxic ingredients and replace them with non-toxic alternatives. Learn more about toxins in personal care products and how to avoid them here. For complete details on how to reduce your toxic exposure, be sure to check out Chapter 8 of my book The Stress Remedy.
No matter what you to do avoid them, you are going to be exposed to some toxins and stress, so your next step is to increase the anti-oxidants you have in your system either by helping your body make more, or by consuming them in food or supplements*.
What anti-oxidants do is block oxidation. They squelch it and make it non-harmful!
Here are the final three steps you can take to combat oxidative stress. These are all ways of increasing the anti-oxidants in your system:
Step 5: Promote the production of anti-oxidants
One of the most powerful anti-oxidants is glutathione which is produced by the body. It is made from three amino acids – glycine, glutamate, and cysteine – and it contains sulfur, which is what makes it so effective. 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
Or you can take supplements that contain:
- N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)
- Alpha lipoic acid
These supplements have also been shown to increase production of glutathione:
- Vitamins C and E
- Vitamin D
- Milk Thistle
There are also supplements containing actual glutathione but it is not well absorbed through the digestive tract, so it is important to choose a product that is either sustained release (see an example here) or has integrated non-soy, non-GMO phosphatidylcholine to increase glutathione absorption (see an example here).
Step 6: Eat foods that are high in anti-oxidants
You can add to what your body produces by eating foods that are high in anti-oxidants every day. These tend to be the foods that are the most colorful, for example:
Other good sources of anti-oxidants include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Green and black tea
And herbs such as:
- Curcumin (also known as turmeric)
The more anti-oxidants you eat, the better you can counter oxidation and prevent oxidative stress.
Step 7: Take herbs that are high in anti-oxidants
Research indicates that the four leading herbal sources of anti-oxidants are:
- Green tea
- Curcumin (turmeric)
Other useful supplements that can be taken daily, either separately or together, for ongoing support are:
- Vitamin C
You can see examples here of a combined package of supplements that support anti-oxidant production.
Now you’ve got it. Protecting yourself from oxidative stress is as simple as protecting your cells by providing what your body needs and avoiding what it doesn’t need. Knowing that we are all exposed to stress and toxins, and potentially infections, on a daily basis, choosing ways to reduce stress and increase anti-oxidants will help you prevent cancer and to live a longer, healthier life.
What is your favorite way to boost protection from oxidative stress? Please do share your ideas and comments below.
2nd October 2014
*Please keep in mind that any and all supplements—nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other—should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.