As we all know, oxygen is essential for (most) life.
...But were you aware that oxygen-containing radicals can be detrimental to your health and well-being?
Oxidative stress is a trending topic that has attracted a lot of attention and has been widely discussed recently in the media and the wider scientific community.
Oxidative stress has been identified as the root cause of most chronic disease- including cancer and the aging process itself.
Today we will be exploring:
• What exactly is oxidative stress
• How harmful it really is
• How it is linked to inflammatory disease, cancer, and aging.
Let's dive right in!
What Exactly is Oxidative Stress?
Let’s start with defining some key terms:
Oxidative stress happens when there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body.
Free radicals are something you probably haven't thought much about since high school chemistry...
A free radical is a molecule that has an unpaired electron. Electrons HATE being unpaired, and these free radicals will "steal" electrons from other molecules, wreaking all kinds of havoc.
Such species are mostly unstable and reactive, but they also can accept and donate electrons, therefore becoming oxidants and reductants.
They have a role in essential metabolic processes:
In low concentrations, they are involved in defending against microbial pathogens.
They are an important defense mechanisms for white blood cells, so while they can be harmful in some circumstances, they're also essential!
Our cells also use free radicals as important signalling molecules, but these typically exist in balance with naturally occurring antioxidants.
However, free radicals can also enter our body from the external environment. Smoking, pollution, ultraviolet light, and common (but toxic!) chemicals can all promote the accumulation of these free radicals- at greater levels than what our bodies are designed to handle.
So, while the production of free radicals is usually a natural process, external factors and genetics can cause an unnatural build-up of free radicals in your body.
External factors and genetics can cause a build-up of free radicals in the body. Smoking, pollution, ultraviolet light, and nasty chemicals can all promote their accumulation.
Antioxidants, on the other hand, are stable molecules that can donate one of their electrons to the free radical, making it less damaging.
Antioxidants naturally occur in many vegetables and fruits – another great reason to add more fruits and vegetables into your diet!
What's the Connection Between Oxidative Stress and Inflammation, Cancer, and Aging?
So now you may be wondering:
How are these free radicals related to inflammation, or even cancer?
Now we're going to discuss exactly how free radicals can harm our bodies..
Let’s dive deeper into how cellular oxidation, inflammation and cancer are all connected:
When the immune system interacts with antigens (harmful molecules that trigger the immune system response), reactive species (free radicals) are generated in response.
This leads to the production of cytokines and chemokines, which are important signaling molecules that can communicate with immune cells.
These are also precursor molecules for the inflammation response, which is the organism’s reaction to pathogens and physical damage. Once it is activated, the immune system keeps producing signaling molecules that trigger further free radical production.
These free radical species that containing oxygen are the main influencer molecules of the inflammatory response. Inflammation reactions continue until the damage is repaired and pathogens are no longer present, at which point free radical production is turned off.
However, if the inflammation becomes chronic, due to the long-term exposure to damaging environmental factors or an illness, free radicals are produced at a constant and unsustainable rate, exhausting your body’s antioxidant defense system. This leads to DNA damage, mutations in dividing cells, antioxidant depletion and an increase in growth factor production.
Repetitive mutation can lead to mutations in oncogenes (genes with the potential to cause cancer) and tumor growth, while growth factors can affect the growth pathways in cancer cells- leading to the uncontrolled growth of cells.
Thus, chronic inflammation is closely related to free radical production and is considered as a precursor for cancer development.
Chronic inflammation is closely related to free radical production and is considered as a precursor for cancer development.
A major free radical-producing organelle in the cell is the mitochondria (cell’s power generator) – yet, in an ironic twist of biology, mitochondria are also the organelle most susceptible to oxidative damage.
Free radicals in a cell can also target and damage the cell membrane, proteins, and DNA.
Mitochondrial DNA is ten times more susceptible to such damage than nuclear DNA, and it has recently been discovered that mitochondria might be involved in carcinogenesis (the start of cancer formation), as it has been observed that mutations in some regions of mitochondrial DNA have been linked to various cancers.
If they attack nuclear DNA, free radicals can also activate proto-oncogenes (potential oncogenes) and inactivate tumor suppressor genes. They are also known to be a contributing factor to tumor vascularization. (Growing a blood supply is a crucial (and bad) step in tumor growth.)
Ok...so what’s the good news?
Well, if you could help support your body’s natural antioxidant system to buffer free radicals, you could interrupt the feedback loop of chronic inflammation, protecting your mitochondrial and nuclear DNA and preventing the mutation and growth of cancerous cells.
Ok So Cancer Makes Sense… But Do Free Radicals Make Us Age Faster?
There are two theories that explain the aging process: damage-accumulating and genetic.
The damage-accumulating theory has several possible reasonings; however, the free radical explanation appears to be the most elaborate and thorough.
The rationale is based on the fact that radicals produced during oxygen metabolism are accumulated over time.
Electrons that leak from the electron transport chain (how your cells make energy) interact with oxygen producing radicals, which can further damage mitochondria, DNA, and lipids (fats). Mitochondrial DNA damage accumulates over time, destroying the mitochondria, and therefore killing the cell and aging the organism.
To add credibility to the theory, the correlation between oxygen consumption and aging has been noticed in a variety of instances:
• Queen bees live 50 times longer than working bees that fly actively and consume more oxygen
• Larger animals that consume less oxygen per body unit live longer than smaller ones
• Pigeons live 10 times longer than rats due to the slower generation of reactive species by their mitochondria
• Species that live longer have better antioxidant protective mechanisms
In humans, oxidative DNA damage can be measured by urinary tests and regulated with dietary and caloric adjustments. This is one of the reasons that fasting may be associated with longevity. It has been observed in many animals that enzymes from younger animals are more active and stable than those found in their older counterparts.
The same pattern can be seen in mitochondria: they contain many enzymes involved in energy production, and it has been reported that the activity of those specific enzymes also decreases with age.
Such changes can be linked to prolonged oxidative stress, and additional studies in0 animals report a decrease in antioxidant activity with increased age.
These findings all help support the conclusion that protein damage by free radicals contributes to aging.
To Sum It All Up…
I hope that you were able to learn some fun new facts, but if you’re totally overwhelmed by all the scientific jargon, here are the key take-home messages to keep in mind:
• Reactive species are molecules with far-reaching effects
• Their accumulation and imbalance with antioxidants can lead to oxidative stress
• Oxidative stress has been scientifically proven to be linked with inflammation and tumor formation and is considered a precursor for cancer development
• Reactive species may also have a significant role in aging.
The Bottom Line?
To minimize the negative effects of oxidative stress, it’s always a good idea to:
1. Incorporate some healthy greens and antioxidant-rich foods into your diet!
2. Minimize the exposure to harmful environmental factors like smoking, pollution, EMF exposure, etc.;
3. Support your body at the cellular level with Molecular Hydrogen tablets proven to neutralize harmful free radicals and boost the internal antioxidant system.
For those of you who want to find out more about this topic, checking out the references for this article (below) is a great way to get started!
Khansari, N., Shakiba, Y. and Mahmoudi, M. (2009). Chronic Inflammation and Oxidative Stress as a Major Cause of Age-Related Diseases and Cancer. Recent Patents on Inflammation & Allergy Drug Discovery, 3(1), pp.73-80.
Reuter, S., Gupta, S., Chaturvedi, M. and Aggarwal, B. (2010). Oxidative stress, inflammation, and cancer: How are they linked?. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 49(11), pp.1603-1616.
Lobo, V., Patil, A., Phatak, A. and Chandra, N. (2010). Free radicals, antioxidants, and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacognosy Reviews, 4(8), p.118.
Aaronson, S. (1991). Growth factors and cancer. Science, 254(5035), pp.1146-1153.
Honma, T., Tsuduki, T., Sugawara, S., Kitano, Y., Ito, J., Kijima, R., Tsubata, M., Nakagawa, K. and Miyazawa, T. (2013). Aging decreases antioxidant effects and increases lipid peroxidation in the Apolipoprotein E deficient mouse. Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition, 52(3), pp.234-240.