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  • Writer's pictureDallas Shepard

How does Oxidative Stress affect your Brain and Body?

Oxidative stress is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body and brain, which can lead to cell and tissue damage. Oxidative stress occurs naturally and plays a role in the aging process and chronic disease.

At Harmonized Brain Centers we have a passion to help people create their Best Brain Ever by creating the optimal environment for the brain. An overly stressful lifestyle can negatively affect our physical, emotional, intellectual, behavioral and spiritual aspects to our lives. This article concentrates on a subset of the physical affects better known as cellular stress or oxidative stress. A large body of scientific evidence suggests that long-term oxidative stress contributes to a range of chronic conditions, over 200 diseases and an overall decrease in brain function. Over 256,000 studies have been published in the last 20 years on oxidative stress alone (go to www.pubmed.gov and type in oxidative stress to find the results.)

What is oxidative stress?

Oxidative stress can occur when there is an imbalance of more free radicals and fewer antioxidants in the body. The body’s cells produce free radicals during normal metabolic processes. However, cells also produce antioxidants that neutralize these free radicals. In general, the body is able to maintain a balance between antioxidants and free radicals leading to good health and a healthy immune system. Several factors can throw off this balance between antioxidants and free radical production. These factors can include:

· diet

· lifestyle

· environmental factors such as pollution and radiation

· Injuries

· ageing

· excessive stress

The body’s natural immune response can also trigger oxidative stress temporarily. This type of oxidative stress causes mild inflammation that goes away after the immune system fights off an infection or repairs an injury. Uncontrolled oxidative stress can accelerate the aging process and may contribute to the development of a number of chronic conditions and lack of brain function.

What are free radicals?

Oxygen in the body splits into single atoms with unpaired electrons. Electrons like to be in pairs, so these atoms, called free radicals, scavenge the body to seek out other electrons so they can become a pair. This causes damage to cells, proteins and DNA. This splitting of oxygen is completed in the metabolic process of energy production in the mitochondria of cells. Mitochondria combine oxygen and glucose to produce carbon dioxide, water, and ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Free radicals arise as byproducts of this metabolic process. External substances, such as cigarette smoke, pesticides, ozone, exercise, a stressful lifestyle and injury can also cause the formation of free radicals in the body.

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are substances that neutralize or remove free radicals by donating an electron. The neutralizing effect of antioxidants helps protect the body from oxidative stress. Examples of antioxidants include vitamins A, C, and E. Like free radicals, antioxidants come from several different sources. Cells naturally produce antioxidants such as glutathione as it works on a cellular level. A person’s diet is also an important source of antioxidants. Foods such as fruits and vegetables provide many essential antioxidants in the form of vitamins and minerals that the body cannot create on its own.

Effects of oxidative stress

The effects of oxidative stress vary and are not always harmful. For example, oxidative stress

that results from physical activity may have beneficial, regulatory effects on the body. Exercise increases free radical formation, which can cause temporary oxidative stress in the muscles. Free radicals formed during physical activity regulate tissue growth and stimulate the production of antioxidants. Mild oxidative stress may also protect the body from infection and diseases. However, long-term oxidative stress damages the body’s cells, proteins, and DNA. This can contribute to aging and may play an important role in the development of a range of mild to severe conditions.

Chronic inflammation

Inflammation is part of the complex biological response of body tissues to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants, and is a protective response involving immune cells, blood vessels, and molecular mediators. The function of inflammation is to eliminate the initial cause of cell injury, clear out necrotic cells and tissues damaged from the original insult and the inflammatory process, and initiate tissue repair. A series of biochemical events propagates and matures the inflammatory response, involving the local vascular system, the immune system, and various cells within the injured tissue. Prolonged inflammation, known as chronic inflammation, leads to a progressive shift in the type of cells present at the site of inflammation by simultaneous destruction and healing of the tissue from the inflammatory process. Chronic inflammation due to oxidative stress may lead to severe conditions and has been attributed directly or indirectly to over 200 disease states.

Neurodegenerative diseases

The effects of oxidative stress may contribute to several neurodegenerative conditions and the acceleration of the aging process which can lead to loss of memory issues, cognitive function decline and many more issues. The brain is particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress because brain cells require a substantial amount of oxygen. The brain consumes 20 percent of the total amount of oxygen the body needs to fuel itself but the brain is only 2% by weight to the body. Brain cells use oxygen to perform intense metabolic activities that generate free radicals. These free radicals help support brain cell growth, neuroplasticity, and cognitive functioning. During oxidative stress, excess free radicals can damage structures inside brain cells and even cause cell death, which may increase the risk of neurodegenerative conditions. Oxidative stress also alters essential proteins, such as amyloid-beta peptides which can lead to neurodegenerative conditions. Top of Form

Factors that may increase a person’s risk of long-term oxidative stress include:

· diets high in fat, sugar, and processed foods

· exposure to radiation

· smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products

· alcohol consumption

· illicit drug use

· certain medications

· pollution

· exposure to pesticides or industrial chemicals

· too much exercise

· injuries to the body or head

· a very stressful lifestyle


It is important to remember that the body requires both free radicals and antioxidants. Having

too many or too few of either may lead to health problems. Lifestyle and dietary measures that may help reduce oxidative stress in the body include:

· eating a balanced, healthful diet rich in fruits and vegetables with phytonutrients

· limiting intake of processed foods, particularly those high in sugars and fats

· exercising regularly

· reducing stress

· avoiding or reducing exposure to pollution and harsh chemicals

· activating the cellular biochemical pathways to produce antioxidants

The above lifestyle changes are vitally important; however, activating our cellular pathways is proving to have a profound effect on the body’s ability to produce its own antioxidants. Typically when we eat or supplement antioxidants, we can only produce antioxidants on a one to one basis. As we age or are in a chronic inflammatory condition we cannot eat enough antioxidants so we recommend nutrigenomics which activate our antioxidant production on a million to one basis. Please visit our website for more information: www.https://www.harmonizedbraincenters.com/nutrigenomics-1


Oxidative stress is a natural state that occurs when there is an excess of free radicals in the body’s cells. The body produces free radicals during normal metabolic processes; however, an overabundance of oxidative stress can damage cells, proteins, and DNA, which can contribute to aging to soon. It may also play a role in development of a range of health conditions from mild to severe neurodegenerative conditions, cognitive dysfunction, disease and short and long term brain and body dysfunction.

At Harmonized Brain Centers we suggest that clients make the necessary lifestyle and dietary changes to help reduce oxidative stress but we also strongly suggest nutrigenomics. Try to sleep well, practice deep breathing or meditation, exercise (but not so much that you cause too much physical stress) maintain a healthy body weight, and eat a balanced healthful diet with fruits and vegetables rich with phytonutrients. Our goal is to help people develop the optimal environment for their brain so they can achieve their Best Brain Ever!

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