Oxidative stress is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body. This can cause damage to organs and tissues and result in various diseases. You can help your body maintain balance by living a healthy lifestyle.

Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules with an uneven number of electrons. This uneven number of electrons allows free radicals to react easily with other molecules. Free radicals can cause large chain chemical reactions in your body because they react so easily with other molecules. These reactions are called oxidation. They can be beneficial or harmful.

Antioxidants are molecules that can donate an electron to a free radical without making themselves unstable. This causes the free radical to stabilize and become less reactive.

Read on to learn how oxidative stress affects the body and how to manage and prevent this imbalance.

Oxidation is a normal and necessary process that takes place in your body. Oxidative stress, on the other hand, occurs when there’s an imbalance between free radical activity and antioxidant activity. When functioning properly, free radicals can help fight off pathogens. Pathogens lead to infections.

When there are more free radicals present than can be kept in balance by antioxidants, the free radicals can start doing damage to fatty tissue, DNA, and proteins in your body. There’s a link between oxidative stress and the onset or progression of certain diseases such as:

Oxidative stress also contributes to aging.

Everyone produces some free radicals naturally in their body through processes like exercise or inflammation. This is normal and part of the body’s intricate system of keeping itself healthy.

You may also be exposed to free radicals in the environment. Some sources include:

  • ozone
  • certain pesticides
  • cigarette smoke
  • radiation
  • pollution

Additionally, alcohol may contribute to free radical production. Research also shows a link between high-fat or high-carb diets and oxidative stress.

It’s impossible to completely avoid free radical exposure and oxidative stress. However, antioxidants in food may have protective health effects.

Eating five servings per day of a variety of fruits and vegetables is one way to provide your body with what it needs to produce antioxidants. Examples of fruits and vegetables include:

  • berries
  • cherries
  • citrus fruits
  • prunes
  • dark leafy greens
  • broccoli
  • carrots
  • tomatoes
  • olives

Other examples of dietary antioxidant sources include:

Other healthy lifestyle choices can also prevent or reduce oxidative stress. Here are some lifestyle choices that will help:

  • A regular, moderate exercise routine. This has been associated with higher natural antioxidant levels and decreased damage caused by oxidative stress. Regular exercise has been linked with a longer lifespan, fewer effects of aging, and decreased risk of cancer and disease.
  • Don’t smoke. Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke as well.
  • Use caution with chemicals. This includes avoiding unnecessary radiation exposure and being aware of other sources of chemical exposure, such as pesticides used on food or in gardening.
  • Be environmentally conscious. Environmentally friendly initiatives like carpooling help reduce free radical production for you and your community by limiting pollution and improving air quality.
  • Wear sunscreen. Sunscreen prevents ultraviolet light damage to your skin.
  • Decrease your alcohol intake.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Ample sleep is very important for maintaining balance in all of your body systems. Brain function, hormone production, antioxidant and free radical balance, and a host of other things are impacted by sleep.

While free radicals and antioxidants are part of your body’s natural and healthy functioning, oxidative stress occurs when free radicals and antioxidants are out of balance. Oxidative stress can cause damage to many of your tissues, which can lead to a number of diseases over time.

While you can’t completely avoid exposure to free radicals, you can make lifestyle choices regarding diet, exercise, and environment to help keep your body in balance, and prevent damage and disease.