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What Are Symptoms of Oxidative Stress?

oxidative stress

It’s essential to have plenty of antioxidants in your diet. Why? The most important benefits of antioxidants are tied to one key role in the body: protecting against damage from free radicals and helping to prevent oxidative stress. This condition can cause cellular damage and lead to several diseases. But what is the relationship between antioxidants, free radicals, and oxidative stress? And what are the symptoms of oxidative stress? Here’s what you should know.

What Causes Oxidative Stress?

Everyone encounters free radicals, a broad term for unstable, highly reactive atoms, molecules, and ions with unpaired electrons. That missing electron means that free radicals can steal electrons from healthy cells in the body.

Free radicals come from many sources: diet, environmental pollutants, radiation, sunlight, heavy metals, illnesses, infections, medications, industrial chemicals and pesticides, and more. But free radicals are also normal byproducts of essential biological and metabolic processes and, as such, are not inherently harmful. Our bodies normally can keep free radicals in check and prevent them from doing damage by producing antioxidants. Problems arise when the amount of free radicals in the body begins to outnumber or overwhelm the antioxidants available to fight them. When this balance is disturbed, free radicals cause oxidative stress.

What is Oxidative Stress?

In USA Today, Dr. Gerardo Mackenzie defines oxidative stress this way: “An imbalance or difference between reactive oxygen species being generated by our cells, through metabolic processes that occur in our cells, and the ability of our antioxidant defenses to interact and quench these reactive products.”

Put simply, oxidative stress is a harmful condition causing cellular damage that can occur when there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in our body.

What Are the Symptoms of Oxidative Stress?

Oxidative stress is a harmful process that can cause different degrees of cellular damage. In the short term, oxidative stress caused by injury, trauma, infection, illness, or excessive exercise can cause localized damage to the specific tissues affected. 

The type and degree of damage caused by oxidative stress are wide-ranging. Symptoms of oxidative stress may include:

  • Chronic or excessive fatigue
  • Brain fog, confusion, difficulty concentrating, problems with memory, and other similar cognitive disturbances
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Chronic or localized inflammation
  • Increased susceptibility to infections or illnesses 
  • Premature aging of skin, characterized by wrinkles, dryness, uneven tone
  • Insomnia or difficulties with sleep
  • Digestive issues ranging from bloating to indigestion to food sensitivities
  • Changes in mood, including increased anxiety or depression

Ongoing and chronic oxidative stress may contribute to conditions such as cardiovascular disease or even Alzheimer’s disease and related neurodegenerative diseases. Oxidative stress can also contribute to negative effects on immune system health, accelerate the aging process, and contribute to chronic fatigue. However, research into these areas is ongoing, and a link is unclear.

Antioxidants for Oxidative Stress

Symptoms of oxidative stress can be serious; chronic oxidative stress is known to be a key contributing factor to many serious diseases, from neurodegenerative conditions to inflammatory diseases to cancer. The best way to protect against oxidative stress is to ensure your body gets enough antioxidants.

You can find antioxidants in many food sources. Great dietary sources of antioxidants include:

  • Beans (especially small red beans, pinto beans, red kidney beans, and black beans)
  • Fruits and berries (especially wild and cultivated blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, sweet cherries, apples, prunes, and plums)
  • Artichokes, russet potatoes, and dark leafy greens

Dietary supplements with antioxidants are another way to ensure you’re consuming adequate antioxidants to fight against symptoms of oxidative stress. If you are curious about antioxidant supplements, read our article on the best elderberry supplements. Elderberries are a dark fruit that seeks to support antioxidant activity and antioxidant levels within the body to support health conditions.

Consider elderberry and additive supplements containing glutathione and vitamins, and get more sleep and exercise. Talk with your primary care physician to learn more about your needs and whether a supplement is right. Don’t let the potential effects of oxidative stress affect your daily well-being. Use this information to make the change you need to feel your best daily.