Dr. Doni Wilson discusses how oxidative stress impairs methylation and overall health and how to recover naturally, especially if you have MTHFR.
Today, I want to talk with you about oxidative stress, an issue that affects us all – it’s just part of being human. So, people tend to accept it as something they can’t change. And people often tell me they don’t want to learn about something if they can’t do something about it. But you CAN do something about oxidative stress.
Similar to inflammation, oxidative stress is one of our body’s protection mechanisms. Without it, we would be in trouble. Thankfully, when our bodies are healthy, they also produce natural anti-oxidative stress mechanisms, to balance things out.
But what about when we push ourselves, emotionally and physically? When we are exposed to toxins in the environment (air and water), pesticides on produce, medications left and right, lack of sleep, high-sugar foods and beverages, long to-do lists, and frequent infections… then oxidative stress can overwhelm our body’s coping mechanisms, and that’s when it starts having a negative effect on our overall health.
What Is Oxidative Stress?
Oxidative stress is something that happens inside our cells. Remember: our bodies are made up of trillions of cells. It’s hard to imagine, but it’s true! And inside each and every cell (except red blood cells) is a tiny “engine” called a mitochondrion. The mitochondria create the energy our bodies use to function, to be awake, to sleep, to digest, to think, to breathe – everything!
But as the mitochondria do their thing, they also produce oxidative stress. In our “engine” analogy, oxidative stress would be like exhaust – exhaust inside our bodies. And if we don’t have enough “anti-oxidants” in our cells, then that exhaust can damage our mitochondria, causing decreased energy production and overall function.
How Do You Know if You’re Under Oxidative Stress?
Some symptoms of possible oxidative stress include:
- Muscle cramps and pain
- Decreased memory
- Auto-immune conditions (MS, Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes type 1, Hashimoto’s)
- Fertility issues
- And many more
By the time you have received one of the above diagnoses, oxidative stress is likely already advanced. The good news is that by decreasing oxidative stress, you can feel better – naturally.
How Oxidative Stress Relates to MTHFR and Methylation
MTHFR is the gene AND the enzyme that turns folic acid into folate. The body then turns folate and B12 into SAM (S-adenosylmethionine); this is a key part of a process known as methylation, which is essential to daily physical functioning. SAM then goes out to perform many functions in our bodies, including making anti-oxidants and helping our mitochondria do their job.
When a person has an MTHFR “SNP” (genetic variation), it is as though there is a traffic jam in the body’s ability to use folic acid in the methylation process. It is possible to take a “detour” around the MTHFR SNP by taking “methyl-folate,” an active form that the body can use.
However, because oxidative stress blocks the methylation process,1 even if you are taking methyl-folate, oxidative stress creates a “pile-up” in the metabolic “traffic” flow of B-vitamins. In short: Less SAM is produced, fewer anti-oxidants are made, and oxidative stress perpetuates.
The result is a vicious cycle of more oxidative stress and less methylation, especially if you have an un-addressed MTHFR SNP. When you have the MTHFR gene mutation, you will be MORE susceptible to oxidative stress-related health issues. Bear in mind that the symptoms it creates will be unique to you. It could be headaches, fertility issues, joint pain, insomnia, memory loss, changes in vision, or several of these symptoms at once.
The Importance of Helping Our Bodies
Sometimes, when our bodies struggle, we wish for a quick fix to come and save the day. We fantasize about a magic pill or treatment that will turn it all around. But the reality is that only when we become our own health advocates, and give our bodies what they need, can they heal.
It is important to realize that there is a paradox that happens in our bodies. When our bodies are overwhelmed by oxidative stress and/or inflammation, they perpetuate that pattern and things get worse. It is like a “snowball effect.” In an effort to protect us from stress and infection, oxidative stress increases, which ends up damaging our cells and slowing down processes further.
So, although our culture encourages us to work hard, do without sleep, eat erratically, and ignore toxins in our air, water and food, if you continue to push your body beyond its ability to heal itself, this vicious cycle will persist, making it increasingly difficult to recover.
The “way out” is to SUPPORT our bodies to reduce and/or avoid oxidative stress. This is ESPECIALLY true if you have an MTHFR SNP.
How Diet Contributes to the Vicious Cycle of Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress starts with our food. We are what we eat, after all. Whatever you eat literally becomes part of your CELLS. The following foods increase oxidative stress in your body:
- Sugar – Sugar increases oxidative stress in multiples ways (see my previous article about liver function). Sugar is a carbohydrate. Some people think of it as an “easy energy source.” However, when sugar hits mitochondria, it creates more oxidative stress and is less efficient than when mitochondria burn fat for energy.2
- Fried foods (such French fries or potato chips) – the fats get oxidized when we fry them. Our bodies then absorb those oxidized fats, and that oxidation becomes part of our bodies.3
- Non-organic foods – pesticides in and on foods can also create oxidative stress.4
Poor Gut Health: Another Contributor to Oxidative Stress
After “trigger” foods, the other major source of oxidative stress for our bodies is overgrowing bacteria in the large intestine.5
We regularly hear about how important it is to take a probiotic; but in many cases, the issue is NOT a lack of good bacteria, but an overgrowth of bacteria that either shouldn’t be hanging out in your intestines, or shouldn’t be thriving quite so much.
This usually happens due to antibiotic use, which kills off good bacteria and creates an imbalance in the bacterial ecosystem within our bodies. It can also happen as a result of other medications, such as antacids and proton pump inhibitors, which decrease stomach acid as well as our ability to digest food. That undigested food then feeds the wrong bacteria.
Same with stress itself! Stress decreases our ability to digest food, and thus increases the imbalance of bacteria – as does gluten, pesticides, and many other factors.
While we often assume that the “garden” of bacteria in our intestines are wiped out and barren, I find (through specialized stool testing) that the garden is more often overgrown with weeds. And that overgrowth of bacteria leads to leaky gut, as well as oxidative stress, which can then spread throughout your body.
That’s why addressing oxidative stress is so key to healing other health conditions, including digestive troubles and impaired methylation.
Tests for Oxidative Stress
To determine someone’s levels of oxidative stress, I often recommend the following tests:
- Standard blood work, looking at levels of globulin, vitamin-D and selenium
- Special urine test to check for the presence of 8-OHdG, an indicator of oxidative stress in urine.
- There are also specialty nutrient panels to measure the levels of anti-oxidants, such as glutathione, in your system.
- If you have imbalanced gut bacteria, also known as “dysbiosis,” then you’ll need a specialized stool test to count and evaluate the bacteria living in your large intestines based on their DNA.
Some of these tests will not be available through your regular GP (particularly the 8-OHdG urine test), and you might need to go to a naturopathic doctor.
Breaking and Reversing the Vicious Cycle of Oxidative Stress
Don’t lose faith: we can still break and reverse this cycle. But the only way is to prevent exposure to foods and other contributors to oxidative stress.
Once you’ve eliminated your exposure to these triggers, you can help your body reverse the effects of oxidative stress by take anti-oxidant supplements* (even before you start taking folate), such as:
- Vitamin C – immune support, anti-histamine and antioxidant all in one; best absorbed in the liposomal form.
- Vitamin E – important to choose natural vitamin E, not synthetic, to get the cell-protective effects.
- Vitamin D – mostly seen as an immune-system booster, although recent studies6 say it is also an anti-oxidant – especially important to be taken during winter when there is less exposure to sunshine/daylight.
- CoQ10 – for this well-known antioxidant, the most recent development is a form of CoQ10 that is better able to get inside cells and mitochondria, called MitoQ.
- Glutathione – one our best antioxidants, the liposomal form ensures absorption into your body where it adds to what your body makes.
- Selenium – potent antioxidant and immune support.
If you find that you need to fight off bad bacteria and/or yeast, then your plan will also include herbs to kill the bacteria you don’t want, certain “probiotics” based on your stool results, and prebiotics to feed the good bacteria. Keeping a balance of healthy bacteria in your gut can have wide-reaching positive effects throughout your body.
NOTE: When choosing supplements, especially anti-oxidants, be sure to choose the highest-quality products to ensure you receive the highest benefit. If you skimp on product quality, you’ll also skimp on support for your body.
I hope you found this article helpful and informative. Remember: There is help for you to reduce oxidative stress. It’s not a quick fix, but once you know it needs to be addressed, it can be a guiding light on your path to wellness.
If you’d like more support on your health journey, I offer a variety of one-to-one consultation packages.
- The MTHFR package, for example, is perfect if you know or suspect you have MTHFR, and you want to fully evaluate its effect on your health and make a plan to address it.
- The oxidative stress package includes ways to find out about your oxidative stress levels and how to address them. All of my consultation packages use my proprietary approach to wellness.
Alternatively, if you want to get started reducing oxidative stress on your own, the Stress Remedy Programs (7-day and 21-day) are perfectly designed to assist you.
And If you like to read and understand how the complexities in our bodies lead to health issues, and how to reverse them using natural approaches, you’ll love my book, The Stress Remedy.
To be sure to receive my next blog post, sign up to receive my eNewsletter here. When you do, I’ll also send you a FREE ebook about how to determine how stress is affecting your health and what to do about it.
Remember, you can do this! You can decrease oxidative stress, and you’ll be so glad you did.
As Always, Wellness Wishes to You!
7th December 2017
*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.
- Maldonado LY, Arsene D, Mato JM, Lu SC. Methionine adenosyltransferases in cancers: Mechanisms of dysregulation and implications for therapy. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2017;:1535370217740860.
- Prasad K, Dhar I. Oxidative stress as a mechanism of added sugar-induced cardiovascular disease. Int J Angiol. 2014;23(4):217-26.
- Narayanankutty A, Manalil JJ, Suseela IM, et al. Deep fried edible oils disturb hepatic redox equilibrium and heightens lipotoxicity and hepatosteatosis in male Wistar rats. Hum Exp Toxicol. 2017;36(9):919-930.
- Chang CH, Yu CJ, Du JC, et al. The interactions among organophosphate pesticide exposure, oxidative stress, and genetic polymorphisms of dopamine receptor D4 increase the risk of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children. Environ Res. 2018;160:339-346.
- Goraca A, Piechota A, Huk-kolega H. Effect of alpha-lipoic acid on LPS-induced oxidative stress in the heart. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2009;60(1):61-8.
- Dzik K, Skrobot W, Flis DJ, et al. Vitamin D supplementation attenuates oxidative stress in paraspinal skeletal muscles in patients with low back pain. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2017.