Can Oxygen Be Unhealthy for You? What?

“Blah, blah, blah, oxidative stress, blah, blah …”

This is usually what people hear when I talk to them about oxidative stress, and I don’t blame them. Their eyes glaze over and you can tell they are thinking about what’s on cable TV tonight rather than what’s going on inside their bodies every time they inhale a lungful of oxygen.

Isn’t Oxygen Good for You?
Yup, oxygen is good for you and good for your body. As you have probably already figured out, you can’t live without it. But it turns out that oxygen can also be harmful to your body. Without going into a lot of detail that will cause your eyes to glaze over, let’s just say that oxygen is a very active catalyst and it does active things in your body, like energize, metabolize, and burn. If left unchecked, your body suffers from oxidative stress because all that metabolizing and burning produces free radicals. Free radicals in your body, like free radicals at a political rally, are definitely not good for the health and stability of your body!

What is a Free Radical?
A free radical is basically an unbalanced molecule floating around your body, and when a free radical comes into contact with your cells, it causes bad things to happen to good cells. For instance, free radicals can:

1. Damage the protective outer layer of a cell
2. Interfere with basic cellular functions like enzyme activity
3. Damage and alter your DNA

In other words, free radicals are bad news for the body!

How to Prevent Damage from Free Radicals
The good news is that your body naturally balances out all the free radicals created by the oxidative process by producing antioxidants or using them from foods we eat. Antioxidants are basically a group of nutrients that keep the free radicals in check. Examples of antioxidants include:

  • enzymes
  • trace minerals
  • amino acids
  • fats
  • carbohydrates

Want some names to go with those nameless antioxidants? OK, here are some examples:

  • co-enzyme Q10
  • vitamin E
  • vitamin C
  • beta-carotene

To ensure that your body gets all the antioxidants it needs to fight off free radicals, you need to eat foods that are high in these nutrients. Examples of antioxidant foods include:

Supplements: blue-green algae, co-enzyme Q10 (or ubiquinol –the bioavailable form), vitamin C
Fruits: Cranberries, blueberries, and blackberries
Vegetables: Beans, artichokes, and Russet potatoes
Nuts: Pecans, walnuts, and hazelnuts
Spices: Ground cloves, cinnamon, and oregano

So breathe deeply, eat antioxidant rich foods, and live a long healthy life! According to Richard G. Cutler, a gerontology researcher:

“The more antioxidants found in the body, the longer an individual’s life will be. In order to live a long and health life, antioxidants should be a staple of any nutritional program.”

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