Oxidative Stress: What Is It and How Can It Affect Your Health?

Dr. Doni introduces the subject of her new series of articles – oxidative stress – an increasingly discussed condition that has a massive impact on our health.

Part 1 of Dr. Doni’s Series on Oxidative Stress

oxidative stress, what is oxidative stress, anti-oxidants, stress, cortisol, elevated cortisol levels genetics, oxidative stress causes, oxidative stress and aging, oxidative stress cancer, oxidative stress markers, oxidative stress testLast year, I wrote an article on oxidative stress called “5 Signs of Oxidative Stress and 7 Ways You Can Stop it.” At the time, it wasn’t something that was being discussed much outside of research papers but since then, oxidative stress seems to be moving ‘into the spotlight’ and I’ve been getting more and more queries about it from patients—I think because more and more people are starting to understand that decreasing oxidative stress is one of the best ways to PREVENT health issues.

Earlier this year, I wrote a whole series of articles on how our genetic makeup can influence our health. When we consider genetics as well, understanding oxidative stress is even more important. Let me explain. When you think of the likelihood that you will develop health issues, we often think of our parents’ health issues. It used to be thought that we couldn’t do anything about our genetics—that they are a done deal and we are stuck with the genetic cards we were dealt. But research is now showing us that we can influence whether our genetics affect our health through diet, lifestyle, stress, and toxic exposure, as well as exposure to anti-oxidants.  So, by understanding oxidative stress, we can prevent that old ‘genetic story’ from replaying in our own lives.

What is Oxidative Stress?

Like rust, oxidative stress occurs in our bodies when our cells and tissue is oxidized. It is confusing to think that oxygen, which is essential for life, is also damaging to our lives when it overwhelms our body’s ability to recycle it and recover from what are referred to as free radicals—oxygen molecules that have the potential to cause us damage.

Oxidative stress in the human body, like rust on a car, results in signs that we normally associate with aging—grey hair, wrinkles, memory loss, and fatigue.

Why Does Oxidative Stress Happen?

Oxidative stress is not, however, simply a natural result of getting older that we just have to accept. It is the result of:

  • Emotional stress and elevated cortisol levels;
  • Toxic exposure, including to metals like mercury and lead, as well as pollutants, smoke, and exhaust fumes;
  • Elevated blood sugar levels;
  • Not enough anti-oxidants like vitamin C, selenium, and zinc in our diets;
  • Physical stress, like intense workouts and/or injuries.

How Does Oxidative Stress Affect Your Health?

When oxidative stress occurs, it is harder for your body to bounce back from stress. Injuries heal more slowly, infections become more likely, and further disruption in the balance of hormones and immune function results. That’s simply because your cells won’t be as healthy when oxidative stress is high, and the mitochondria that produce energy inside your cells won’t be able to do their job well. So you are likely to feel tired, achy, worn out, and just not yourself. You can read more about mitochondria in this article.

Once you understand that oxidative stress affects every cell in your body, it makes more sense that research finds it plays a role in all major health issues including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, asthma, degenerative diseases, and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It is also associated with many common conditions in various areas of the body such as cataracts, arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythms), anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, BPH, kidney stones, macular degeneration, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, GERD, hypertension, and tinnitus.

Basically, if you don’t feel well or something isn’t working as well as it used to, it’s probably because of oxidative stress. It’s part of being human, and it’s the focus of all anti-aging efforts.

Can I Do Anything About Oxidative Stress?

Yes, you can reduce it by making changes to your diet and lifestyle. The sooner you realize your exposure to oxidative stress and make choices that decrease it the better chance you have of reversing the effects of oxidative stress and optimizing your health. Anti-oxidants such as vitamin C, selenium, and zinc block oxidation and prevent oxidative stress so eating foods that are high in anti-oxidants, taking vitamins that boost your anti-oxidant levels, and working to avoid exposure to toxins can all help reduce your oxidative stress.

For immediate help with how to decrease your exposure to oxidative stress and to increase your anti-oxidants, you could open up my book The Stress Remedy to chapter 8. There you’ll find detailed recommendations for what to eat and what to avoid in your environment, as well as how to manage stress naturally. A few of my favorite super anti-oxidant foods, as discussed in The Stress Remedy, are:

  • Wild organic blueberries, preferably frozen. While packed with anti-oxidants, berries also won’t spike your blood sugar, so it’s good news all round.
  • Organic squash, yams, and sweet potatoes. Think color, orange especially, when looking for anti-oxidants.
  • Beets, pomegranate, and cranberries. Red too, indicates foods that are high in cell protective anti-oxidants.
  • Pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and flaxseeds. Yep, seeds not only contain good fats and fiber, but also health-promoting anti-oxidants.
  • Turmeric, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, and rosemary. Herbs can be an easy way to sprinkle anti-oxidants on your food.

You might start by simply noticing whether you’ve included foods high in anti-oxidants each time you sit down to eat. It’s almost likely playing a game—spot an antioxidant—and the reward is good health.

Over this series of articles, I will go in-depth into different ailments that are related to oxidative stress and approaches you can use to address them. This will tie in with the special program, called the Oxidative Stress Consultation Package, that I have developed JUST to address oxidative stress.

To be sure you don’t miss this series, please subscribe to my e-newsletter called Weekly Wellness Wisdom here, and we will make sure you receive future articles direct to your inbox.

Next time, we will be exploring diabetes and oxidative stress—how consuming excess carbohydrates triggers a vicious cycle of oxidative stress and what you can do at any point along the way to stop the damage.

–Dr. Doni
13th November 2015


  1. Hi, I’m wondering why there is no mention of legumes and sprouted legumes which are easy to do at home. I always assumed they were packed full of goodness, especially when sprouted?

    • That’s a great addition to the list, thank you! I’ll be talking more about all sorts of sources of antioxidants through this series of articles on oxidative stress. 🙂

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