Oxidative Stress: Avoid the Path to Heart Disease

We’ve all heard that high cholesterol counts can lead to serious heart health problems, but now a precursor to heart disease has been discovered. Here’s how to understand, recognize, and prevent the problem. 

Oxidative Stress: Avoid the Path to Heart DiseasePhoto: ShutterStock

What Is It?

Oxidative stress is the term for damage caused by destructive oxygen molecules called free radicals. It occurs when your body’s natural antioxidant defenses are being overwhelmed, and there are too many free radicals in your system. According to researchers this condition is what switches atherosclerosis from ‘off’ to ‘on’. Our bodies produce free radicals naturally when we breathe, digest food and neutralize alcoholic drinks and drugs of any type, and when cells convert fat and carbo-hydrates into energy. When free radicals attack LDL cholesterol, it converts into the form that promotes atherosclerosis.

Why Does It Happen?

Free radicals are usually eradicated by the body’s natural antioxidant system. If that protective system is overwhelmed, free radicals begin to damage cells and other molecules, leading to atherosclerosis, cancer, mental decline and other health problems. Your natural antioxidants are overwhelmed by a lack of fruit and vegetables, an excess of stress and too little exercise.

What You Need To Know

Free Radicals Attack LDL Cholesterol

This converts LDLs into a form that triggers or worsens atherosclerosis. The new form can also contribute to plaque bursting; it is this burst plaque that can cause blood clots that block blood flow to the brain or heart.

The Mind-Body Connection

Mental and emotional stress can boost oxidative stress; relaxation can lower it.

Detecting It

There is no test available to determine the level of oxidative stress going on in your circulatory system, but lifestyle choices pretty much tell the story. Being overweight, having a diet low in fruit and vegetables, smoking and a lack of exercise all raise your risk of oxidative stress.

Standard Medical Care

Each year Canadians spend millions of dollars on over-the-counter vitamin and mineral supplements-including popular antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, E and beta carotene, and the mineral selenium. However, research has yet to prove conclusively that they work.

What You Can Do About It

Go for natural antioxidants: exercise, stress reduction, colourful fruits and vegetables. Easy food switches that will boost your daily antioxidant intake include drinking apple or grape juice instead of soft drinks, adding broccoli to your salad-and even eating canned vegetables: despite the canning process, they generally retain many of the antioxidants that can be lost from fresh vegetables during storage. Be vigilant, though-vegetables are often canned in salt water, so check the label for sodium.

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