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5 reasons for oxidative stress and what you can do about it

Oxidative stress arises from a wide variety of causes. But you can do something against it.

What is oxidative stress?

We talk about oxidative stress when the human body cells are exposed to special oxygen reactions. In most cases, these reactions are caused by free radicals. By free radicals we mean oxygen compounds in a state of instability. This means that they are, in a sense, missing an electron. If a reaction occurs with another compound, the particle that is missing is snatched from it. In this way, new free radicals are formed. The term for this process is oxidation.

Free radicals are an important part of the body. The organism produces them independently in various processes such as immune reactions or cellular respiration. Therefore, free radicals are by no means only pathogenic and negative substances. Sometimes they even protect against pathogens. They only have a negative effect on health when their concentration is too high. This is known as oxidative stress. This happens, for example, in the case of serious diseases such as cardiovascular diseases or cancer.

If the body suffers from oxidative stress for a longer period of time, the risk of contracting certain diseases increases. For example, oxidative stress is considered to be the cause of strokes, impairment of the central nervous system, Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease. However, a number of scientific questions remain unanswered in clarifying the connections.

erschöpft im bett oxidativer stress

Signs and symptoms of oxidative stress

Bemerkbar macht sich oxidativer Stress auf unterschiedliche Weise. Als typische Anzeichen gelten:

  • Exhaustion
  • a drop in performance
  • a lack of energy
  • fatigue
  • a higher susceptibility to infections
  • a worse healing of wounds
  • high blood pressure
  • chronic infections

Furthermore, oxidative stress plays a significant role in aging. Detoxification and regeneration of the body cells are affected by it. Among other things, it contributes to premature aging of the skin and the formation of gray hair.

Causes of oxidative stress

The triggers for oxidative stress are manifold. The excess amount of free radicals is triggered by influences due to diseases, from the environment or a certain behavior. In medicine, a distinction is made between endogenous and exogenous causes.

1. oxidative stress due to smoking

Smoking is classified as one of the main causes of endogenous oxidative stress. With every puff of a cigarette, free radicals or reactive oxygen species enter the lungs. Free radicals are also responsible for the vascular impairment caused by tobacco use. Nitrogen molecules and reactive oxygen species are formed by smoking. As they progress, they form compounds with the fatty acids within the cells, among others. This in turn produces aldehydes, which accumulate in the DNA and cause damage to it. In the case of specific mutations, there is a risk of tumor diseases in the long term.

2. oxidative stress due to drugs

The intake of special drugs can also result in oxidative stress. Hormone preparations, antibiotics or cytostatics are primarily responsible for this.

3. oxidative stress due to radiation

Another possible trigger is radiation such as X-rays or UV rays. Under the influence of the sun's rays, reactive oxygen species are formed, which affect the skin in many ways. More free radicals are formed in the skin than can be compensated for by the antioxidant protection system.

4. oxidative stress due to environmental toxins

The free radicals can also benefit from negative environmental influences. These include, above all, air pollution as well as exhaust fumes from cars. But also toxins from the environment such as heavy metals, pesticides, ozone, solvents or dioxins trigger oxidative stress.

5. other possible exogenous causes for oxidative stress

  • Physical or psychological stress
  • abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • depression
  • an excess of fast food

Endogenous causes of oxidative stress are considered to be triggers that do not result from the individual's own behavior or harmful influences from the environment. These are mostly:

  • Infections or inflammations
  • weakening of the human immune system
  • surgical interventions
  • injuries
  • intense physical or athletic stress
  • allergies
  • autoimmune processes such as chronic rheumatic inflammation of the joints

However, sometimes a person's own behavior, such as too little exercise or an unbalanced diet, can also contribute to the weakening of the immune system.

Consequences of oxidative stress

A large number of cell structures are negatively affected by reactive oxygen species. Free radicals in particular want to fill their electron gap. In doing so, they alter enzymes, proteins and cell membranes. They can also cause damage to genetic material. The attacks of the free radicals on unsaturated fatty acids lead to hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis). Oxidative stress is also thought to play a role in diseases of the immune system, neurodegenerative diseases, rheumatism and cancer.

What you can do against oxidative stress

There are a few ways you can combat oxidative stress. One of them is the use of antioxidants. They form the antagonists of free radicals. By eliminating harmful oxygen compounds, free radical scavengers counteract oxidation. Although the human body also forms its own antioxidants, these are not sufficient. It is therefore all the more important to supply them to the organism with food. Antioxidants contained in food are in particular vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, selenium and secondary plant substances such as beta-carotene.

Plant foods such as fruits and vegetables are particularly valuable against oxidative stress.

Also interesting: These foods contain the most antioxidants

Nutritional supplements against oxidation?

Because antioxidants can counteract cell aging by having the potential to bind free radicals and stop their aggressive reactivity, they are often found in anti-aging supplements. The basis for the use of antioxidants is the assumption that free radicals trigger many aging processes. When the body ages, antioxidant protection declines at the same time. With the antioxidants contained in the anti-aging dietary supplements, the negative effect of the free radicals should be stopped.

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Bottom line

With a healthy diet, a balanced lifestyle and regular exercise, you usually don't have to worry about oxidative stress. It is important to avoid nicotine and alcohol so that your body can maintain the balance between antioxidants and free radicals.