Oxidative stress – Is your body also rusting?

As the cells in the body metabolize the food we eat and convert it into energy (ATP) in the mitochondria, most of the residual products become carbon dioxide and water (or lactic acid if there is insufficient oxygen in the cell).

The mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell and as they metabolize the nutrients to energy, a certain amount of so-called free radicals are also always formed (mostly in the case of oxygen-rich metabolization), for example free oxygen radicals (called ROS = reactive oxygen species).

A free radical is a molecule that have lost one or more electrons (electrons want to occur in pairs). The molecule then becomes very unstable and chases around to find a new electron to becomes stable again. Then it will steal electrons from another molecule, which in turn becomes a new free radical (the previous one is now a stable molecule) and creates additional chain actions.

This pursuit of electrons can damage the membranes of the cells, its DNA, proteins (such as collagen), glucosaminoglycans (in the ground substance, interstitial fluid), and other biomolecules which in turn creates inflammation and diseases.

Oxidative stress can be a cause of a wide variety of inflammatory diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, rheumatism, cataracts and more.

When we are under pressure, free radicals are released

Free radicals are formed all the time and they are also needed as, for example, signal molecules and they are used in our immune system. The surplus is taken care of by the body’s own defense system against free radicals, various enzymes as well as endogenous antioxidants, which are to donate electrons and harm the free radicals. Endogenous means that the body forms them by itself if the constituents are present. In addition, a variety of substances that we need to get with our food, such as C and E vitamins, function as antioxidants. These are exogenous, must be added from the outside.

Increased oxidative stress is a state of imbalance with greater production of free radicals than existing antioxidants, which cannot reduce the radicals. However, there is always an excess of free radicals which is what leads to normal aging, but if the imbalance becomes too great, we are seriously injured and get inflammation and diseases (which in turn creates more oxidative stress).

When the body is exposed to high stress, such as illness, inflammation, mental stress, physical exertion, medicines, poisons, alcohol, smoking, obesity, sunlight and so on, there are formed extra amounts of free radicals. The more strain the body is exposed to, the more radicals are formed. In the case of severe stress, they are also formed in a short time as the metabolic rate increases. If this imbalance persists for a long time, it can seriously damage the cells and cause diseases.

Antioxidants help against free radicals

To fight and neutralize these free radicals, we need to get antioxidants. An antioxidant is a molecule that can give away an electron to the free radical, without itself becoming a free radical. Vitamin C, ascorbic acid, is a powerful antioxidant as it has two electrons to donate, compared to other common antioxidants that have only a single electron to donate. Vitamin C is thus effective in reducing oxidative stress and is then depleted more quickly during illness, stress, physical exertion, smoking, obesity etc. Inflammation creates severe oxidative stress and the free radicals then act as signal substances, so they are needed to some extent. However, the oxidative stress creates even more inflammation, and a vicious cycle occurs.

Since an antioxidant has neutralized a free radical, has donated an electron, (it has been reduced), it is inactivated, and it will no longer works. Vitamin C, however, can reactivate vitamin E but will then be consumed by itself and must be re-added. Mostly all animals, except most monkeys, humans and guinea pigs, produce large amounts of vitamin C continuously during the day, and they produce more under stress.

There are around 300 antioxidants and they have different functions to neutralize different types of free radicals, so we need them all, as a large spectra, as they work together! Antioxidants are found mainly in fruits, berries and vegetables and often you can say that the more color the better. Some of the enzymes needed in the body need different minerals or vitamins to be formed.

Important antioxidants to get with diet or supplements:

  • Vitamin C –> needed as supplementation! Read about Vitamin C!
  • Vitamin E –> needed as supplementation
  • Carotenoids  – group of dyes in plants, fungi etc., some are converted to vitamin A
  • Flavonoids – dyes in plants (and in egg yolks)

The micro-minerals Zn, Mn, Cu, Fe, Se are needed to form the important enzymes that are the body’s own first defense against oxidative stress (superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione peroxidase).

Magnesium, Mg, is not an antioxidant but is involved as a cofactor in about 80% of the body’s known metabolic functions (Thomas Levy, 2019). Among other things, it has a vital role in the formation of glutathione, the body’s most important antioxidant. Mg deficiency is very common, but the importance of this incredibly important mineral has been underestimated. Deficiency causes great damage to the body and is thought to be the cause of a variety of diseases and aggravate them. It has been found that elevated calcium levels in the cells are associated with increased intracellular oxidative stress. Mg lowers the calcium level in the cells, thereby reducing the oxidative stress. According to Thomas Levy, a large number of diseases can be improved and also cured with Mg, preferably intravenously.