Discovering Healthy and Harmful Oxidative Stress Causes
There are many oxidative stress causes. Some oxidative stress causes are actually healthy for the body, such as moderate exercise. But it is a well-established fact that exposure to too many oxidative stress causes can become dangerous, especially for those who already have fragile health conditions.
Oxidative stress causes can aggravate and compound the symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) and the overall NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response. This includes the healthy form of oxidative stress caused by exercise if it is not done in a way that takes into consideration the stage of adrenal fatigue you are in. The NEM stress response is the body’s overall response for countering stress caused by mental, emotional and physical stressors. It is composed of a number of organs and systems that form six circuits: the cardionomic, neuro-affective, detoxification, bioenergetic, inflammatory and hormonal.
Outside of the central nervous system, the adrenal glands are the most important agents in stress control, producing the anti-stress hormone cortisol, among many other hormones. Cortisol helps maintain blood pressure, regulates heart and blood vessel functions, neutralizes inflammation and suppresses the immune system.
Stress responses are natural and healthy, but when stress becomes chronic, the burden on the adrenal glands begins to affect their cortisol output, which at first goes up, then is exhausted and compromised at later stages of adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue symptoms include tiredness, loss of libido, weight problems, an inability to handle stress, difficulty sleeping, waking up in the middle of the night, mild depression, anxiety and many other symptoms. Oxidative stress added to these conditions can make for complicated health issues that need special care and recovery.
What is Oxidative Stress?
Oxidative stress causes an imbalance between the production of free radicals, or what are sometimes called “reactive oxygen species”, and the body’s antioxidant defenses that neutralize free radicals. Oxygen, though necessary for survival, can become toxic in high concentrations. It acts as an “oxidizing” agent – removing electrons from atoms and molecules, which is a destructive process. This is actually what happens with the process of rusting in iron and steel.
When you eat, the oxygen that you breathe combines with the digested food in a controlled metabolic function. But this function also produces free radicals, which are unstable compounds that take away the electrons they need from atoms and molecules they meet in order to become stable themselves. Doing so, they create even more unstable atoms and molecules that go on to do the same thing to other atoms and molecules.
Oxidative stress is the pressure put on the body by these free radicals. In fact, aging is basically caused by oxidative stress accumulating in the body over time. Anti-aging techniques and products revolve around trying to slow down or reverse the accumulation of this oxidative stress that has occurred with age.
Thankfully, the body itself has natural mechanisms to control and neutralize these chain reactions and to repair the damage if it has already been done. Vitamins C and E are able to lend electrons to free radicals so they do not strip the body’s cells directly, that is why they are called antioxidants. Unfortunately, sometimes the body is unable to mount an antioxidant defense strong enough to handle excessive oxidative stress, and free radicals can roam unchecked, causing a lot of damage along the way. Many illnesses and health conditions are caused or aggravated by oxidative stress. This is especially the case with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Multiple Sclerosis. Oxidative stress is also implicated in depression and certain types of cardiovascular problems, as well as age-related cancers.
Oxidative Stress Causes and Recovery
Oxidative stress can be caused by a number of factors, such as:
- Exposure to toxins and pollution
- Exposure to chemicals in food and other products
- Certain types of medications and drugs
- Unhealthy diets
- Hydrogenated fats
- Cooking with oil that is heated to very high temperatures
- Exposure to radiation
- Cigarettes (firsthand or secondhand smoke)
- Certain types of plastics
- Chlorinated water
- Infections (viral, bacterial or fungal)
Mental and emotional stress can also cause oxidative stress. Removing such stressors from your daily life as much as possible is the first step to balancing and repairing damage done by free radicals. The next step is to support the body’s natural antioxidant defense systems by eating healthy foods, getting enough vitamin C and vitamin E, managing stress, and leading a healthy lifestyle.
Vitamin E is known to be a great antioxidant, and that is why it is a main ingredient in so many skin and beauty products, especially those with anti-aging properties. It neutralizes free radicals and protects cells from oxidative damage.
In order to receive the full benefits of the antioxidant action of vitamins C and E, you would need to take around 2000 mcg of vitamin C and 400 IU of vitamin E a day – impossible through food alone. Supplementation would then be the way to go. This has to be done with caution, as with any kind of supplementation. This is especially true if you suffer from AFS. For example, those who are undergoing adrenal fatigue may actually experience increased anxiety and tiredness when taking high doses of vitamin C, because of the low clearance velocity of the body in that state.
If you suffer from AFS, it is best to get dietary coaching to ensure you are getting the right nutrition and supplements for your condition.
Oxidative Stress Causes, Exercise and AFS
Although exercising is an important part of any health routine, it is another area where you need to be careful if you have AFS.
What happens when you exercise is that your body is not only performing an aerobic function, it is also performing an anaerobic function. When you are exercising, your body releases norepinephrine and epinephrine, or what is more commonly known as adrenaline. These two hormones raise the heart rate to help your muscles with more vigorous movement than usual – whether through aerobic exercising or weightlifting.
Without these two hormones, your body would not be able to perform exercises that require this strong capacity.
But what if you suffer from adrenal fatigue? This can be a little more complicated to answer without understanding the stage and condition you are in. But in general, some exercise is good for those with adrenal fatigue in earlier stages.
What happens with AFS is that your body is trying to slow down and get rest to conserve energy, since with adrenal fatigue you are basically in a state of tiredness due to the exhaustion of the adrenal glands and the dysregulation of the overall NEM stress response. Cortisol output is not functioning normally and your body is unable to handle stress efficiently, including physical stress caused by exercising. Now when you exercise and your circulation and adrenaline increase, you start to feel better and more energetic. You then conclude that exercise is what your body needed. But afterwards, by a few hours perhaps, there is a drain on the system and you begin to experience what is sometimes called a post-exercise crash. You begin to feel like you are “draggy” and you’re confused as to why you felt so good during exercise and now you are feeling much worse. Some people may even become bed ridden for a few days after a session of vigorous exercise because the more intense the exercise, the bigger the crash. This is especially the case with intensive light running, such as for a marathon.
Theses oxidative stress causes are partly due to exercise, as well as, the drain on the energy reserves. The more intense the exercise the bigger the drain on the energy reserve that had been building up, especially that from nutrition, which the body has to build up again, and that takes time. This energy drain makes the body unable to sustain itself and its functions properly and you go into a slump. Thankfully, in most cases, the body can restore itself after a while, but in a minority of cases there can be an adrenal crash.
It is highly recommended that if you have AFS you are careful about what kind of exercise you engage in. There are types of exercises designed specifically for AFS, such as adrenal restorative exercises, adrenal circulation exercises and adrenal yoga exercises that we have developed at drlam.com. The importance of doing the right kind of exercise for your stage of AFS is that it will help you to slowly, systematically and consistently rebuild the system gently while limiting adrenal output.
A common trap that people, especially young people, often fall into, is that out of their desire to recover quickly, they equate the ability to exercise with the ability to recover from adrenal fatigue. But, as mentioned earlier, this momentary improvement is actually due to the release of adrenaline in the system, it is not actual recovery. If this becomes a recurrent cycle, where one uses adrenaline from exercise as a tool to feel better, it can lead to serious crashes and relapses.
The progression of oxidative stress causes has to be a steady and careful one in order to avoid this trap. The key, then, is to do the right kind of exercise at the right time with the right frequency and the right intensity for your individual state. Finding this delicate balance will make a world of difference to your recovery. It is best to have a holistic health program designed for you personally by a professional who really understands your condition and your individual needs and medical history.
© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.