This is the first in a series of articles on the root problems of most chronic illnesses: diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, autoimmune disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic fatigue, Parkinson’s disease and early aging.
Over the next few months, I will share how oxidative stress, inflammation, hormone imbalance and toxins cause chronic illness and how to prevent early aging and chronic illness.
FREE RADICALS AND TORNADOES
When we mix oxygen with food, we get energy. As our body transforms oxygen and food into energy, we make “free radicals.” Free radicals include compounds like peroxides and are like little tornadoes that spin off more little tornadoes.
These free radical tornadoes go around and damage cells. Free radicals damage the protein and fats in cell membranes, mitochondria — which are the energy factories in the cells — and even sometimes DNA, leading to cancer. It is estimated the average human cell sustains 10,000 hits per day from free radicals.
When cells are damaged by free radicals, the body reacts with inflammation. Chronic inflammation can lead to more cell damage. Free radicals lead to a toxic spiral of cell damage, inflammation and cell death.
To stay healthy, the body must maintain a healthy balance between formation of free radicals and destruction of free radicals. How does the body do this? It tries to keep the free radicals within the cells and breaks the free radicals down. It uses antioxidants like vitamin C and E to destroy the free radicals and uses natural repair mechanisms to mend damaged cells.
COMBATING OXIDATIVE STRESS
First, try to avoid toxins like cigarette smoke, pesticides, solvents, ozone and other chemicals that increase free radical production. Second, we must have adequate dietary intake and absorption of antioxidant nutrients found in fruits and vegetables.
Basically, eat more plants so your plate has a variety of colors at every meal. Americans’ poor intake of fruits and vegetables means most Americans do not have enough antioxidants to protect them from the damaging effects of free radicals.
MEASURING OXIDATIVE STRESS
We can actually measure your body’s oxidative stress levels with special lab tests, including glutathione, serum lipid peroxides, 8OhdG and enzymes that increase with oxidative stress. The best defense against oxidative stress is to listen to what your mother always told you: Eat your fruits and vegetables. This means at least five servings a day and 10 or 12 servings are better for maximum health.
Next month, we will learn more about how inflammation causes chronic disease. Hopefully, 2012 will be a year to attain better health by understanding how your body works. So dress up your plate and eat a rainbow of fresh fruits and veggies to fight off free radicals.
Dr. Steinmetz is a board-certified family medical doctor based in Alexandria who uses conventional and integrative practices. She welcomes reader questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.