What Does Oxidative Stress Mean? Free Radical Damage

Medically Reviewed on 11/8/2021
what does oxidative stress mean
Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body, which can cause cell damage

Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body. 

Your body produces free radicals during metabolic processes, as well as antioxidants that neutralize the free radicals. However, when too many free radicals are produced, they can impair cell regeneration and repair, leading to accelerated aging and the development of certain diseases over time.

What are free radicals?

Free radicals are oxygen molecules with an unequal number of electrons. Because of their odd number, they easily react with molecules in the cell membrane and can cause large chain chemical reactions in your body. These reactions are referred to as oxidation.

While oxidation is a natural and necessary process, oxidative stress is harmful to the body.

What causes oxidative stress?

Oxidative stress is caused by:

What are symptoms of oxidative stress?

Oxidative stress can lead to symptoms such as:

How can oxidative stress be prevented?

Your body has natural defenses against oxidative stress and cell damage:

  • Physical barriers to keep free radicals at bay (intact skin and epithelium)
  • Oxygen-neutralizing enzymes to counteract free radicals
  • Antioxidants, which help repair the damage done by free radicals

An imbalance of free radicals in the body can cause damage that overwhelms the body's defenses. If left unchecked, oxidative stress can cause enough internal disruption to result in serious health problems. You can limit the damage of oxidative stress by:

  • Avoiding stressors: Avoid situations that cause physical or mental stress whenever possible. Avoid processed foods, air pollution, and other toxins in your environment. Wash your hands, especially during cold and flu season.
  • Reducing stress: When you can't avoid stressors, try to reduce the effects on your body by following good sleep hygiene, practicing deep breathing or meditation, and engaging in regular exercise.
  • Boost your immune system: Increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs, vitamins, and phytonutrient-containing supplements to stimulate your immune system and build up your body’s natural defenses.


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What foods help fight oxidative stress?

Doctors typically recommend eating antioxidant-rich foods to help neutralize free radicals and combat oxidative stress. Antioxidants are a type of nutrient that can help protect the cells in your body from free radical damage.

Antioxidants can be found in fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats and may include vitamins A, C, and E, as well as beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein. 

Examples of foods rich in antioxidants include:

  • Tomatoes
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Collard greens
  • Spinach
  • Beets
  • Red bell peppers
  • Corn
  • Potatoes
  • Apples
  • Mangoes
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Citrus fruits
  • Figs
  • Dark chocolate

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Medically Reviewed on 11/8/2021
Image Source: ttsz / Getty Images