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What is Oxidative Stress?


August 18, 2020 | Published by

What is oxidative stress?

Oxidative stress is an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals within the cells in your body.1 Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules with an uneven number of electrons which allows them to easily react with other molecules. It’s possible for them to cause significant chain chemical reactions within your body due to the fact that they react so easily with other molecules. These reactions are called oxidation and it can be beneficial or harmful.2

Antioxidants are molecules that can provide an electron to a free radical while maintaining stability. This electron donation causes the free radical to stabilize and become less reactive.2

Effects of oxidative stress

It’s possible that oxidative stress is responsible for the development of several diseases and chronic conditions, including3:

  • Diabetes
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Glaucoma
  • Inflammation
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Adrenal fatigue
  • Age-related macular degeneration
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Insulin resistance
  • Cancer
  • Neurodegenerative diseases
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Managing oxidative stress

The best way of providing an adequate amount of antioxidants to your body is by eating five servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables daily. Some great tasting, high in antioxidant foods include2:

  • Cherries
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Citrus fruits
  • Prunes
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Olives

Additional antioxidant sources include2:

  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin C
  • Melatonin
  • Green tea
  • Onions
  • Fish and nuts
  • Garlic
  • Turmeric
  • Cinnamon

Sustaining a healthy lifestyle can help to reduce antioxidant stress. Optimizing antioxidant levels can be done through:

Maintaining a moderate exercise routine

Proper exercise has been associated with higher natural antioxidant levels and decreased damage caused by oxidative stress. Regular exercise has been linked with a longer lifespan, fewer effects of aging, and decreased risk of cancer and disease.2

Avoiding tobacco products

Not only is smoking a major stressor, it can lead to more significant problems such as heart disease down the road.4

Being conscious of the environment

Environmentally friendly acts such as carpooling can help decrease free radical production for you and your community.2

Getting proper sleep

Getting an appropriate amount of sleep is vital for maintaining balance in all of your body systems including brain function, hormone production, and antioxidant and free radical balance.2

Being mindful of your eating habits

Studies have shown that eating disorders such as overeating can keep your body in a state of oxidative stress more often than if you eat moderate proportions at appropriately spaced intervals.2

Free radicals and antioxidants are part of your body’s healthy function, but oxidative stress occurs when free radicals and antioxidants are out of balance. It’s even possible for oxidative stress to cause damage to your body’s tissues, which can lead to numerous diseases over time.

And while it’s impossible to completely avoid exposure to free radicals, you can make lifestyle choices involving diet and exercise to assist in keep your body healthy, helping to reduce the risk of damage and disease.2


  1. Pizzino, G et al. Oxidative Stress: Harms and Benefits for Human Health. NCBI.
  2. Dix, M. Everything You Should Know About Oxidative Stress. Healthline.
  3. Wong, C. Natural Remedies for Fighting Oxidative Stress to Improve Health. Verywell Health.
  4. American Heart Month – The Other February Holiday.

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