Oxidative Stress and Metabolic Health
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Oxidative Stress & Its Effect on Metabolic Health

What is Oxidative Stress? 

Oxidative stress is caused by an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Molecules generally have paired electrons, and when any molecule loses one of its electrons, it becomes a free radical with an unpaired electron in its outer orbital. These free radicals with an unpaired electron are highly reactive. Free radicals attack other molecules such as proteins and lipids making them unstable and creating secondary free radicals. Free radicals are harmful to cells as they damage the cells by oxidising proteins, lipids, and DNA. 

Free radicals are neutralised by antioxidants that lend an electron to free radicals to stabilise them. Antioxidants prevent oxidative damage to various cells and tissues. Antioxidants can be found in foods rich in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E. Our body synthesises antioxidant enzymes such as catalase and oxidase to keep the number of free radicals in check. 

Our body produces free radicals during normal metabolic processes, and it can stabilise these free radicals naturally by producing antioxidants. Cells protect themselves from damage induced by free radicals with the help of enzymes such as superoxide dismutase, catalase, and glutathione peroxidase. 

An imbalance occurs when huge amounts of free radicals and not enough antioxidants stabilise them. This imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants leads to oxidative stress. Lifestyle choices such as overeating and a sedentary lifestyle can also increase oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can give rise to several chronic metabolic conditions. 

Factors Increasing Oxidative Stress

Many factors contribute to free radical production resulting in oxidative stress: 

  • Inflammation 
  • Extensive exposure to UV rays
  • Exposure to pollution
  • Smoking
  • Unbalanced diet and overeating 
  • Build up metals such as iron or copper 

Effect of Oxidative Stress on Metabolic Health 

Metabolic health means having optimum blood sugar levels, HDL (High-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides, and waist circumference without the help of medications. Oxidative stress affects the body’s natural defence mechanism, causes cell damage, and affects your metabolic health. It modifies proteins, affects enzymes, breaks DNA strands, and causes mutations in DNA strands that can increase cancer risk. Oxidative stress also affects the functioning of the nervous system resulting in neurological disorders. 

Oxidative stress leads to many chronic metabolic conditions such as: 

  • Diabetes - Oxidative stress is known to increase complications of diabetes.
  • Hypercholesterolemia - Oxidative stress increases cholesterol levels in the bloodstream giving rise to hypercholesterolemia. 
  • Hypertension - Oxidative stress is known to cause hypertension. When the enzyme oxidase that is supposed to prevent oxidative stress is not activated, it leads to hypertension. 
  • Cardiovascular diseases - If there is oxidative stress in your body, it increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases. An insufficient amount of antioxidants increases oxidative stress due to obesity, hyperglycemia, overeating, and psychological stress. 
  • Neurological diseases  - Oxidative stress is linked to several neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's, and memory loss.  
  • Cancer - DNA damage and mutations caused by oxidative stress stimulate cancer growth in the body. 

Manage and Prevent Oxidative Stress

It would be impossible to eliminate oxidative stress. However, you can reduce the effects of oxidative stress. An increase in antioxidant levels can help to reduce the formation of free radicals in the body. Due to a shortage of antioxidants, free radicals accumulate and cause cellular and tissue damage. Cells can protect themselves by deploying a defence mechanism with enzymes such as catalase and oxidase. You can reduce the accumulation of free radicals in the body by practising the following simple tips to promote your metabolic health: 

  • Include foods rich in antioxidants in your diet - Fruits and vegetables are great sources of antioxidants that help reduce oxidative stress. Include lots of fresh tomatoes, carrots, prunes, broccoli, leafy greens, berries, and olives in your diet that supply plenty of antioxidants that help to prevent the formation of free radicals and reduce oxidative stress. Fish, nuts, cinnamon, green tea, and turmeric also provide antioxidants needed to avoid oxidative stress. 
  • Exercise regularly - Follow a regular and moderate exercise routine. Regular exercise promotes the natural production of antioxidants in the body. Exercise reduces the effects of ageing and decreases the risk of cancer. Go for a walk for at least 30 minutes a day. 
  • Quit smoking and limit your alcohol intake - Smoking increases free radical production and weakens the antioxidant defence system. Alcohol consumption increases free radical production in the body. It is advisable to limit alcohol consumption to avoid oxidative stress. 
  • Control your urge to overeat - Overeating leads to increased production of free radicals. Eat at proper intervals, remember to eat in moderation, and include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants. Choose fruits or nuts for snacking instead of fried and junk food. 
  • Get sufficient sleep - Getting at least seven hours of sleep every day ensures proper brain function and hormone production in the body. Getting sufficient sleep helps in maintaining the balance between antioxidants and free radicals. 


Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Free radicals are produced during regular metabolic processes in the body. These free radicals are highly reactive. This reactive nature of free radicals can lead to cellular and tissue damage that cause various metabolic conditions. Many factors such as overeating, inflammation, smoking, exposure to UV rays, and pollution increase the production of free radicals in the body. Antioxidants help in stabilising free radicals. When there is a shortage of antioxidants in the body, free radicals accumulate and cause oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can give rise to various metabolic disorders, including diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular issues. 

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  • https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19281826/


This website's content is provided only for educational reasons and is not meant to be a replacement for professional medical advice. Due to individual differences, the reader should contact their physician to decide whether the material is applicable to their case.