What is oxidative stress?
The cells of our body are supplied with oxygen when we breathe. Free radicals are always created in the process. These are specific oxygen molecules such as superoxide, hyperoxide and hydrogen peroxide, which are missing an electron. They are consequently extremely unstable and therefore short-lived. To avoid decaying, they “steal” one of the electrons from the closest cell. As a result, the free radicals are transformed into stable molecules. The cell that has had an electron “stolen” from it becomes unstable itself (it oxidises). So it gets a new electron from a stable neighbour. This triggers a chain reaction in which more and more cells are damaged. Normally the body defends itself against this with its antioxidative system. But if there are too many free radicals in the body, the natural immune system is pushed to its limits. The body is then exposed to oxidative stress.
What promotes oxidative stress?
If the body’s equilibrium of free radicals and antioxidants is correct, there is no chain reaction leading to oxidative stress. On the contrary: free radicals then play the important role of destroying excess cells and thus, for example, preventing cancer. The antioxidants maintain order: they prevent too many healthy body cells from oxidising. The human body then ages at a natural pace.
But the equilibrium between ‘brooms’ and ‘watchdogs’ can quickly get out of kilter. It depends on the specific circumstances of a person’s life. Is the person a smoker? Do they drink too much alcohol? Or are they often exposed to the sun’s radiation without adequate UV protection? These and various other factors cause increasing numbers of free radicals to form in the body. Harmful substances such as ozone, smog and pesticides also play a part in this. And people who do not have the opportunity to eat a balanced, healthy diet will not be getting enough antioxidants at some stage. Mental and physical stresses – after an operation, for example, or participation in high-performance sport – can also cause oxidative stress.
How does oxidative stress manifest itself?
Oxidative stress has various symptoms. Their occurrence depends on the specific areas of the body in which healthy cells are destroyed by free radicals. The following parts of the body are particularly susceptible:
- Skin: The more free radicals destroy skin cells unhindered, the faster the pace of skin ageing. They damage important components such as collagen and hyaluronic acid, which contribute to keeping skin firm and youthful.
- Muscles: A particularly large amount of free radicals are created during sport. Those suffering from oxidative stress are physically less resilient and sooner or later will suffer muscle pain.
- Blood vessels: If free radicals damage the fatty acids that are part of the blood vessels, the latter become constricted. The probable consequences are circulation problems and varicose veins.
- Brain: If oxidative stress comes from brain cells, this can allow the development of neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s.
It is suspected that oxidative stress plays a part in a whole series of medical conditions. They include cancer, cardio-vascular diseases, cataracts, rheumatism, weaknesses in the immune system and diabetes.
What reduces oxidative stress?
There is no recognised treatment for oxidative stress at the moment. But you can do something to maintain the balance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body. The basis for this is a healthy, balanced diet. Many types of fruit and vegetables and other foods are rich in antioxidants. So include apples, blueberries, nuts, tomatoes and spinach in your diet as far as possible – and the odd piece of dark chocolate now and again won’t do any harm either. With nutritional supplements that contain L-cysteine, selenium or Coenzyme Q10, you can also prevent oxidative stress.
Do you suspect that your body is exposed to oxidative stress? Get your doctor to check your antioxidant levels to be on the safe side. You will then find out whether your condition really is linked to an excess of free radicals – and you can take specific countermeasures. If your skin has already noticeably lost elasticity and firmness as a result of oxidative stress, make the most of the benefits of collagen and hyaluronic acid. Both ingredients can be added to the body not only in the form of creams, but also as nutritional supplements – for beauty from within.