While the term 'oxidative stress' may sound like it belongs exclusively in a chemistry textbook, it actually holds a significant place in human health discussions. As it turns out, oxidative stress is a key player in the narrative of disease and aging. But what exactly is it? How was it discovered? And what roles does it play in our bodies?
Unraveling the History
The story of oxidative stress and its relevance to health dates back to the mid-20th century. In 1956, Dr. Denham Harman first proposed the free radical theory of aging. He suggested that free radicals, unstable molecules that can damage cells, produced during normal metabolic processes, lead to cumulative damage over time, eventually resulting in aging and disease.
Harman's hypothesis was initially met with skepticism. However, as research advanced, the link between oxidative stress and various diseases such as cancer, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even the process of aging itself, became increasingly clear.
Biology of oxidative stress
In order to understand oxidative stress, it's important to first understand free radicals. These unstable molecules are produced by our bodies during normal metabolic processes, such as breaking down food, or from external sources like tobacco smoke, radiation, and pollution.
While free radicals are essential for some biological processes like inflammation and phagocytosis, they can cause damage when their levels increase beyond the body's ability to neutralize and eliminate them. They cause damage to cell structures, lipids, proteins, and even DNA, a process termed oxidative stress.
Antioxidants, like the 'master antioxidant' L-Glutathione, are one of our bodies' potential primary defense against free radicals. These compounds may help neutralize free radicals by donating an electron, thus reducing their reactivity and potential for harm.*
Interesting facts about oxidative stress
Paradoxically, some level of oxidative stress is necessary for survival. It plays a role in the body’s immune response to infections. Certain immune cells produce free radicals to kill invading pathogens.
While we often associate 'oxidation' with harm and 'antioxidants' with health, it's not as straightforward. Some antioxidants can act as pro-oxidants under certain conditions, and not all oxidative stress is bad. A balanced redox state is essential for health.
The body has a complex network of antioxidant defenses that work synergistically to keep free radicals in check. This includes enzymes like superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, and glutathione peroxidase, as well as non-enzymatic antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, and glutathione.
Oxidative stress, a concept once confined to the realm of biochemistry, is now recognized as a crucial element in the narrative of human health and disease. Although it was originally met with skepticism, decades of research have solidified its link to numerous health conditions and the aging process itself.
Future research is likely to provide even more insights into the roles of oxidative stress in health and disease, potentially opening the door to new therapeutic strategies.
As always, talk to your doctor before taking any supplements. Get professional advice if you think you might need a supplement or are already taking one to ensure you're not exceeding the amounts you may need.