Healthy Aging

What is oxidative stress and why is it important?

And how do you reduce it?

By Victoria Frankel

• 5 MIN READ

Oxidative Stress

What does it mean to function optimally? How can we tell when our body, our tissues, or our cells are struggling? Can it be measured, and more importantly - can it be reversed?

The answers to these questions may seem overwhelming, especially when scientists are still trying to uncover all the molecular details that determine what ‘healthy’ really means. But science has come a long way. And that includes understanding what oxidative stress really is, and what its role is in human (and microbial) health.

What Is Oxidative Stress, and Where Does It Come From?

We all encounter stressful situations - whether it’s at work, home, or elsewhere - they’re everywhere in life. But let’s face it, stress is unavoidable. It’s just a natural part of being alive. Over time and through evolutionary processes, we’ve learned ways to manage stress until we can either get out of a situation, or adapt to the environment. These reactions can manifest in many different ways and sometimes our reactions are involuntary. But what is important is finding healthy ways to cope.

And our cells are no different. Every day, every moment, they must adapt to their surroundings. They also encounter stressful situations, but not all stress is created equal. Just as we encounter stressful, negative situations (like an argument with a friend), we also encounter positive situations (like a new promotion at work). In the cellular world, stress may appear as generating energy used to perform normal tasks, like building proteins, replicating DNA, or simply just ‘existing (because that takes energy, too!).’

To create energy, our cells must access nutrients - like stored fat and glucose - and convert it into the energy currency ATP in our mitochondria. A complex chemical process that takes many different steps, this conversion from one compound (like glucose) into another (ATP) can cause a bit of stress. This stress is referred to as oxidative stress because as a side effect of generating ATP, the mitochondria also produces harmful, toxic compounds called reactive oxygen species (ROS), or ‘free radicals.’

Just like working on a paper for school to earn a good grade or finalizing a project for work to get a great bonus, a little bit of stress is bound to happen. And for the most part, we all can handle a ‘little bit’ of stress. But that’s only because we have ways to counter it, like decompressing with a nice bubble bath, exercising, or maybe even relaxing on your couch with your favorite show. 

Our body also has a way of managing oxidative stress from free radicals: by producing - and using from our diet - antioxidants.

Life Is About Balance

Antioxidants and antioxidant enzymes neutralize these toxic compounds by donating a spare electron that helps neutralize the electrical charge of the free radical. For every free radical created, our cells jump into action to help neutralize the effect before they cause too much damage. But if our cells are producing too many free radicals to keep up with the antioxidant levels, or our antioxidant levels become depleted…. Well, the accumulation of all those toxic free radicals can cause irreparable damage.

For example, if you tacked on one stressful situation after another, and you didn’t take time to relax - you’d quickly find yourself fatigued, overwhelmed, and your immune system susceptible to illness. In the same way, too many free radicals can cause oxidative stress effects like damaged or mutated DNA, damaged mitochondria, or worse: it might even cause the cell to die.

Normally, this isn’t an issue. Our bodies are fully equipped to create our own antioxidant army in the form of Glutathione - the master antioxidant. Glutathione is an impressively potent antioxidant capable of neutralizing a great deal of free radicals. Plus, it can be replenished by various nutrients found in our diet. But what happens when your diet isn’t repleting your Glutathione levels? Over time, the accumulation of free radicals can begin to do damage to your mitochondria, causing mitochondrial dysfunction.

Mitochondrial dysfunction can reduce your mitochondria’s ability to produce energy - and when enough mitochondria become affected, you might experience the following symptoms:

  • Headaches

  • Weakness

  • Fatigue

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms

  • Endocrine disturbances

  • Significant developmental delays 

  • Heart and kidney issues

  • Problems with speech and sight

  • Difficulty walking

  • And more.

That’s why it is so important to ensure your body isn’t experiencing extraneous levels of oxidative stress. And even if you’re not experiencing all of these symptoms, how can you know if your mitochondria may be struggling more than they should?

Decode Your Mitochondrial Health

In our Health Intelligence Test, we now offer insight into how well your mitochondria are functioning and if oxidative stress is an issue for you.

In this world, knowledge is power! And the Viome Health Intelligence Test gives you more than just a print-out of what’s happening inside you. We provide personalized, actionable recommendations to help boost your body’s antioxidant potential by helping you choose the right foods to maximize your body’s antioxidant support.

With the right foods and supplements, you can reduce your oxidative stress levels. Many fruits, vegetables, herbs, and extracts contain antioxidant compounds that can work to support or maintain Glutathione levels. Included in your Precision Supplements recommendations may be oxidative stress supplements like butterbur root extract, blueberry extract, selenium, and more. But deciding which supplements are right for you takes a comprehensive and holistic approach to decoding the whole you. What works for one person may not work for another.

That’s why at Viome, we continue to be committed to throwing out the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to food and supplements. Only by looking at all the factors, including how each nutrient gets broken down in the gut microbiome and how it may be absorbed - can we learn what supplements might fit best for you in overcoming oxidative stress in your internal environment. The right foods, with the right supplements - and the right amount of exercise - can improve your body’s natural ability to defend against free radicals. 

And that’s exactly what your diet should do: provide you with all the right tools to help you be your best, day in and day out, no matter what you need to face.

The information on the Viome website is provided for informational purposes only and with the understanding that Viome is not engaged in rendering medical advice or recommendations. Viome provides this educational information to share the exciting developments being reported in the scientific literature about the human microbiome and your health. Viome products are not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.