Rusting Away With Oxidative Stress
If we had one goal to aim for in promoting a healthy and long life, it would be to avoid rusting away with oxidative stress. Just as metal rusts when exposed to oxygen in air and water, so molecules in our body are similarly affected by oxygen.
Why Can Oxygen be Bad for Us?
How can this be when we require oxygen to breathe in order to survive? The answer is the manner in which that oxygen is delivered. When we receive oxygen in air in its molecular form with balanced paired electrons, we can convert that through our lungs so that it can travel through our blood system. This is how oxygen is delivered to cells in our body and how it finds its way into our muscles to power them.
However, free radicals are molecules containing oxygen that have one or more unpaired electrons, meaning they are unbalanced. These free radicals are highly reactive with other molecules and will steal electrons from other molecules in order to become paired and balanced. But this process destabilises the molecule that has had an electron stolen, which now becomes a free radical itself and will steal an electron from another molecule.
And so the process continues, in a dangerous chain reaction.
As is the case so often in our lives, appropriate balance is key. Oxidative stress is basically caused when free radicals are not neutralised or dealt with by antioxidants in our systems. In other words, our defences are not strong enough to withstand the free radical attack and we start rusting away with oxidative stress.
All cells in our body that use enzymes and oxygen to carry out their operation can be exposed to free radical damage. This can lead to very serious damage to our cells including damage to DNA and mitochondria, leading to cell mutation (the start of a cancer cell cluster unless stopped by antioxidants).
Antioxidants can stop free radicals from damaging cells by donating one of their electrons to the free radical (as known as a reactive oxygen species). Antioxidants are so designed to do this without themselves becoming free radicals, which is why it is so important for us to have a really strong antioxidant defence force on our side.
Basically free radicals have an oxidising capability which can be balanced by antioxidants. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between the oxidising free radicals and our defence system, the antioxidants. When this happens we start rusting away with oxidative stress.
What Diseases Can Oxidative Stress Cause?
Shockingly, just about everything:-
- Heart and blood vessel disorders;
- Heart disease and heart attack;
- Gene mutations and cancers;
- Arthritis (all forms);
- Inflammatory diseases; and
- Neurodegenerative and auto-immune diseases (Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, lupus).
What are the Main Antioxidants?
There are really important and potent antioxidants that we produce from enzymes such as:-
- Glutathione preoxidase;
- Superoxide dismutase; and
And there are others that we need to acquire directly from food as opposed to producing them ourselves such as:-
- Vitamin C;
- Vitamin A;
- Vitamin E;
- Co enzyme Q10; and
- Phytochemicals found in many foods.
So you can see that having a good supply of antioxidants comes down to having a good quality diet rich in the natural sources of these defence workers and supplementing with those that are not easy to acquire in sufficiently large amounts, specifically Vitamin C.
Vitamin C is absolutely crucial in controlling the ravages of free radicals especially in our blood stream where it helps to stop the build-up of plaque, which is our body’s natural way of repairing damage to our arterial and vascular systems caused by free radicals.
Despite what is commonly recommended as the Vitamin C RDA (considered by many to stand for the “Ridiculous Deprivation Allowance” and not the “Recommended Daily Allowance”) of as little as 100 mg, many experts, such as Dr Thomas Levy and Dr Susan Humphries, recommend increasing the daily amount taken up to the limit of bowel tolerance and then backing off a bit from this amount. This will be at least 5 grams, ie 5,000 mg, of ascorbic acid, considerably more than the paltry 100mg RDA, which is only really enough to prevent scurvy but not to act as a super effective antioxidant.
For some people bowel tolerance may be much higher and this is usually the case when someone has a great need for the vitamin C. As time goes by this higher dose will reduce as the body heals and has less need for the vitamin C.
Vitamin C has a relatively short half-life in the body of around 1-1.5 hrs, so it is best to split the dose into several smaller amounts during the day, with the last dose around 6pm (some people can have difficulty falling asleep with large doses taken close to bedtime).
Continue with this protocol for at least one month and you will see the benefits of increased energy, greater immunity and resilience. You will also be slowing or reversing the process of rusting away with oxidative stress.
Elite Athletes and Oxidative Stress
Ever wondered why you often hear of an elite athlete pulling out shortly before a major competition with an illness or injury? Their heavy training schedules and intensity of exercise actually increase the levels of oxidative stress that they must deal with . If they do not seriously increase the level of antioxidants that they supplement with, they will quickly be out of balance with their oxidative stress, and illness and injury will occur.
When you add in the mental stress factor and the pressures to perform at their best, it is easy to understand why these supposedly superhumanly fit individuals may not be as healthy as they look.
It was very sad to hear on Monday of the death of former surf lifesaving and Ironman champion Dean Mercer at the tender age of only 47 following a heart attack.
You might have thought that someone as obviously fit as he was would have had a really healthy vascular system. However, knowing what you do now about the need to balance oxidative stress with antioxidants you can easily understand why a lifetime of intense training and exercise may very well have produced so much oxidative stress that his antioxidants could not cope, and vascular damage has occurred over a longish period leading to a heart attack – absolutely tragic for him and his family.
For most of us non-elite athletes, the same level of vascular damage will also occur with an imbalance in oxidative stress versus antioxidants, but the difference is that it might take a few years longer. How often do we hear of heart attacks in people in their fifties or sixties – same process just a different time frame.
So the take away information is that the body is incredibly well evolved to deal with oxidative stress using several antioxidant pathways. However, we need to be aware that we can affect this delicate balance by:-
- decreasing the amount of oxidative stress by reducing our exposure to all forms of toxins in foods, our environment and what we put onto our bodies; and
- increasing the amounts of antioxidants we obtain from foods and supplements.
Only then will be able to stop rusting away with oxidative stress.
Trying to eliminate the rust from within, Edith and Tim at CoolWellbeing Foundation
Related articles you might like:-
 Oxidative stress status in elite athletes