5 Signs of Oxidative Stress and 7 Ways You Can Stop It

What-is-Oxidative-Stress-and-Why-Is-It-a-Problem-

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:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Memory loss and/or brain fog
  3. Muscle and/or joint pain
  4. Wrinkles and grey hair
  5. Decreased eye sight
  6. Headaches and sensitivity to noise
  7. 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:

  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Talking with a friend
  • Enjoying nature
  • Journaling
  • 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.

Increasing Anti-Oxidants

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:

  • Asparagus
  • Peaches
  • Walnuts
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes

You can also support your body to make more glutathione by eating foods that are high in sulfur:

  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, collards, and cabbage
  • Avocados

Or you can take supplements that contain:

These supplements have also been shown to increase production of glutathione:

  • Vitamins C and E
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium
  • 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:

  • Beets
  • Kale
  • Berries
  • Tomatoes

Other good sources of anti-oxidants include:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Green and black tea

And herbs such as:

  • Cinnamon
  • Ginger
  • 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)
  • Quercetin
  • Resveratrol

Other useful supplements that can be taken daily, either separately or together, for ongoing support are:

  • CoQ10
  • Selenium
  • 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.

–Dr Doni
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.

Comments

  1. Now that I’m growing asparagus I will have to say it has solidified its spot as favorite oxidative stress reducer in my life. Steamed with a touch of Japanese mayonaise, chopped in my eggs with red onion, and now I often have one when I’m picking the asparagus. I eat the ones that are too tall to serve at the table.

    • Protandim is a good example of a product containing:
      – Withania somnifera dry root
      – Camellia sinensis dry leaf
      – Equivalent caffeine
      – Silybum marianum dry seed
      – Bacopa monnieri dry whole plant
      – Curcuma longa dry root

      There are many products available that contain some or all of these ingredients, and others that hep with oxidative stress… so it is good to always evaluate how you feel you are doing with what you are taking and may want to trade out to others every so often just for variety.

  2. Have you heard of Spectramax & FuCoydon supplements? My husband was diagnosed with Sarcoidosis & we would love your help!!
    Thank you!!

  3. I have graying hair and beard and chronic fatigue at 27. I have started taking 25 grams of spirulina powder (full of tyrosine and copper) and indian gooseberry (rich in vitamin C) and I drink a green smoothie (apple, banana, honey, spinach, and spirulina) in it. A cup of green tea each day and also two brazil nuts for selenium along with this. As part of my regular diet, I eat beans and salads and brown rice mostly. Do you think that’s enough to prevent further graying and reversing my oxidative damage that has taken place? I also have hair loss so I am taking vegan pea protein…I am vegetarian btw. Please advise. And this has been a wonderful article.

    • It sounds like you are doing all wonderful things to support your body. If you find that you are still fatigued, then yes, I think you may want to consider adding in more support for your body. For the most comprehensive support, I would need to meet with you so that I understand your body and what may work best for you. If you like, you can use the online scheduling calendar here: DoctorDoni.com/Appointment or feel free to email my assistant at schedule@doctordoni.com.

    • You need more foods rich in protein, I use MRM brand veggie plant protein shake 2x a day (made w 1/2 as much water so I can spoon it up). I add Pb Fit and chia seeds sometimes to combat my body’s need for more energy but still keeping caloric intake low. Just because you do not feel hungry doesn’t mean your muscles don’t need a boost of nutrients, especially if you workout daily like I do. Great Article!

  4. So how do you explain the fact that antioxidants are being shown to increase the risk of metastasis of melanoma?

    • There is some very interesting research related to melanoma in animals and how oxidative stress could actually slow metastasis. Makes sense since oxidative stress would damage the cancer cells. So I would say that this is all the more reason to always individualize the approach you take and to work with a practitioner who can review which and how much of any nutrients and/or antioxidants are appropriate for you. Nutrients that may be good for you when you don’t have cancer may not be good for you if you do have cancer.

  5. I understand that oxidative stress often plays a serious role in the disease condition known as: pyroluria
    and am curious to know if you have any specific suggestions with regards to effective treatments and whether there may be any known supplements &/or therapies that show promise of a cure for pyroluria?

    • Perhaps you’ve read already that pyroluria improves with B6 (P5P) and zinc, as well as GLA. It is important to work with a practitioner who can help you to evaluate your nutrient levels and how the pyroluria treatment overlaps with other concerns in your body.

    • Yes, good point! Children can have low glutathione too. It can be present with neurological issues, asthma and allergies, rashes and digestive issues, and for any history of infection.

  6. Hello and thanks for writing such wonderful information. Is there a good test that can show your glutathione level and rate it according to only your body and not a national average?
    Peace

    • Hello Kathy! And you’re welcome! Yes, there is a blood test for reduced glutathione – but it is not a test that the stand labs will run. You’ll need to have it ordered through a specialty lab and by a practitioner who is aware of this type of testing. I’m happy to help further if you’d like to arrange a consultation (can be by phone). Find out more on the make an appointment page.

  7. Great blog post, thank you for this succinct info. I am an acupuncturist looking for some info for myself on this topic. Nice work and it’s nice to see someone so committed to their field as you do.