Many of us in the nutrition and antioxidant industry have heard about oxidative stress and its relation to many diseases such as the metabolic syndrome, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and insulin resistance. As its importance grows everywhere from academia to food manufacturers it is a good time to take a quick look at it: what is oxidative stress?
Oxidative stress was defined in 1985 by Dr. Helmut Sies, a pioneer in the field of carotenoids and flavonoids – two major categories of antioxidants. In simple terms, oxidative stress is stress in the human body caused by excessive free oxygen radicals. The human body systemically generates reactive oxygen species (commonly called “free radicals”), which are species that are extremely unstable and tend to damage biological structures such as cells. As a natural defense system, the body regularly eliminates these free radicals via in vivo antioxidants and other mechanisms. When an imbalance occurs where the generation of free radicals overwhelms the radical elimination process, oxidative stress is formed and excessive free radicals begin reacting with biological structures like DNA and protein and causing problems.
Over the last few decades, reduction of oxidative stress has become a main focus in the nutraceutical and pharmaceutical worlds. Various disease prevention strategies are developed including using vitamins, whole foods, or whole food type nutritional products to reduce oxidative stress and improve health conditions. Which is the winner of all or is there a winner? This question has complexities deeper than what a succinct article is intended to answer, but it is safe to say that with more and more clinical studies done in this area (not just at Brunswick Labs but all over the world) we will keep learning about the strengths and weaknesses of nutritional ingredients in relation to oxidative stress reduction. Even though the winner remains to be seen, however, many studies so far favor a food group that popular belief always deemed healthy: foods rich in antioxidants.