Word Picture: What is “Oxidative Stress”

by | Oct 12, 2014 | General Health, Nutrition

This is a tough subject, but let me try to explain why – if you pay attention to articles on health and wellness – there is such an emphasis on foods and supplements that are “anti-oxidant” (like fruits and vegetables, nuts, mushrooms, and the like) and the avoidance of stuff that is “oxidative” (like refined sugars, chemicals and artificial ingredients, white flour, etc).

Think of the body as a power plant. You know… you put the fuel in, burn it, and produce energy. We are all “coal-fired” power plants burning “dirty coal”.

Now, when a modern coal-fired electrical plant works right it produces heat to boil the water to create the steam to turn the turbines to generate the power. What comes out the stack is water vapor and carbon dioxide. These are totally clean by-products (unless you are a proponent of the theory that man-made CO2 is causing Global Warming… if so, you can stop reading now). Modern plants have “smoke scrubbers” to remove the soot, ash, sulfur-dioxide, and other toxic by-products.

The human body is like that. It has enzyme systems that, like smoke scrubbers, de-toxify the body and remove the by-products of the body’s metabolism. These by-products tend to be “oxidizing”, that is, they cause breakdown of normal tissues and molecules in much the same way that oxygen combines with iron to create iron oxide, commonly known as “rust.”

To keep us all from becoming like the Tin Man in Oz and freezing in place, or falling apart, we have thousands of anti-oxidant chemicals and enzyme pathways in our cells and tissues, You might recognize a few names like “glutathione”, or “super-oxide dismutase” (SOD), or “catalase”…. (or not). Maybe you’ve heard of those nasty oxidizers in the body called “free radicals” that those protective molecules are supposed to get rid of. No?

Well, anyway, when we’re young we can eat most anything and grow and thrive pretty well. I mean, lots of hot dogs and snack foods don’t do too much damage to the young body. But as we get older, those anti-oxidant and detoxifying systems don’t work as well. The smoke scrubbers get worn out as we get older.

So better acquire a taste for “clean coal” as young as possible or you will be destroying the environment (by that I mean, your body) later…