advertisement



Q & A Library


Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Q
Stumped by Oxidative Stress?

Can you please explain oxidative stress to me? Also, I really don't understand what free radicals are and why they're so bad.

A
Answer (Published 3/17/2009)

The terms oxidative stress and free radicals have become familiar in recent years, but I'm sure you're not the only one who doesn't fully grasp their meaning. I'm happy to give you a quick overview of a complex subject. If you want to learn more, I recommend reading the chapter, "Why We Age" in my book, Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well-Being (Knopf, 2005) and Oxygen: The Molecule That Made the World, by Nick Lane (Oxford University Press, 2004).

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor for Supplements & Herbs - If you are interested in supplementing your diet, and want to take the mystery out of choosing vitamins, try Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor. Visit today for your free, personalized Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor Recommendation.

"Oxidation" is the chemist's term for the process of removing electrons from an atom or molecule. The result of this change can be destructive - rusting iron is a familiar result of oxidation. Here, oxygen is the responsible agent, but other oxidizing agents, such as chlorine, can be as harsh.

Although we need oxygen to live, high concentrations of it are actually corrosive and toxic. We obtain energy by burning fuel with oxygen - that is, by combining digested food with oxygen from the air we breathe. This is a controlled metabolic process that, unfortunately, also generates dangerous byproducts. These include free radicals - electronically unstable atoms or molecules capable of stripping electrons from any other molecules they meet in an effort to achieve stability. In their wake they create even more unstable molecules that then attack their neighbors in domino-like chain reactions.

By the time a free radical chain fizzles out, it may have ripped through vital components of cells like a tornado, causing extensive damage, similar to that caused by ionizing radiation.

Oxidative stress is the total burden placed on organisms by the constant production of free radicals in the normal course of metabolism plus whatever other pressures the environment brings to bear (natural and artificial radiation, toxins in air, food and water; and miscellaneous sources of oxidizing activity, such as tobacco smoke).

Our bodies aren't helpless in the face of these assaults. We have defenses against oxidative stress in the form of physical barriers to contain free radicals at their sites of production within cells; enzymes that neutralize dangerously reactive forms of oxygen; substances in our diets (such as vitamin C and vitamin E) that can "quench" free radicals by donating electrons to them and cutting off the chain reactions early in their course; repair mechanisms to take care of oxidative damage to DNA, proteins and membranes; and complex stress responses that include programmed cell suicide if damage is too great.

A good case can be made for the notion that health depends on a balance between oxidative stress and antioxidant defenses. Aging and age-related diseases reflect the inability of our antioxidant defenses to cope with oxidative stress over time. The good news is that with strong antioxidant defenses, long life without disease should be possible.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

 


Take the guesswork out of which vitamins and minerals you need - get your free, personalized recommendation from the Weil Vitamin Advisor.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle, LLC on DrWeil.com (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being
in just eight weeks!
Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!
 

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe
Wellness Guide

Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet Food Pyramid
Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you
and their corresponding answers
from Dr. Weil.

 
Copyright © 2014 Weil Lifestyle, LLC
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here