Since the number of ways to improve your overall health and wellness can often feel overwhelming, most people start with what they can see—trying to get in “shape” by losing weight or building muscle. But I find that if you want to get the biggest ROI on your efforts, it’s actually most important to focus on what you can’t see, especially for the long term.
Only dealing with the signs of wellness that you can see is like putting a new coat of paint on a wall made of rotting wood. Instead, targeting the things that actually affect your core biological processes makes sure you’re shoring up the structure of the wall before you focus on what color looks best.
One of the biggest offenders is oxidative stress. It’s often at the root of most serious ailments, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, and cancer. Fortunately, by itself, oxidative stress is not entirely difficult to deal with. Here are 8 ways to put it in check, starting today.
What the heck is Oxidative Stress?
Before you can control oxidative stress, you need to know what it is.
According to Schieber et al, oxidative stress refers to elevated intracellular levels of reactive oxygen species that cause damage to lipids, proteins, and DNA.
Like most things scientific, it requires another definition just to understand it. Reactive oxygen species (ROS)—you may have heard of them referred to as “free radicals”—are defined by the National Cancer Institute as “a type of unstable molecule that contains oxygen and that easily reacts with other molecules. A buildup of reactive oxygen species in cells may cause damage to DNA, RNA, and proteins.”
While a certain number of free radicals in your body are normal, when the levels climb too high due to things like poor diet, increased body fat, increased stress, or exposure to environmental toxins like pollution and cigarette smoke, you experience the excessive oxidation that leads to some serious negative effects.
This is where antioxidants come into play. Think of the free radicals as a hyperactive toddler. Small, by comparison to the environment he’s in, but can really wreak some havoc if not closely monitored. Antioxidants are like attentive parents, heading off potential paths of destruction by calming him down.
Your body can naturally make antioxidants on its own, but to beef up your army of free-radical fighting molecules, you can nudge your body into making more or consume them in food and drink.
Exercise actually boosts oxidative stress in the short term, which may make this seem counterintuitive. However, regular strength training has been shown to reduce markers of oxidative stress and boosts your body’s antioxidant reserves, according to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning research.
This is thought to happen because weight training serves as a stress test of your body’s oxidation-fighting system. In the way that it makes your muscles stronger by stressing them, it’s also making your resources for combating oxidative stress stronger and more resilient.
Consume Some ‘Shrooms
A number of vegetables and fruits contain antioxidants, but most people associate produce that are deep reds, purples, and blues with free-radical fighting powers, overlooking the rest. One unsung hero of the oxidation resistance is the mushroom. Mushrooms contain high levels of ergothionine—a powerful antioxidant that some scientists believe may be used in the future treatment of cancer and HIV.
What makes ergothionine such a powerhouse is that it’s more active in the presence of high levels of oxidative stress, acting as a special-forces level of your antioxidant defenses—kicking in when your regular oxidative-stress-fighting capabilities are maxed out. While most mushrooms you’ll find in the grocery store contain ergothionine, Oyster mushrooms have the most.
Maximize your Morning Joe
Good news, that stuff you already can’t live without in the morning has benefits beyond making you feel alert and ready for the day. A recent review, headed up by Dr. Daniela Martini, published in the scientific journal Molecules, found that regularly drinking coffee can lead to higher levels of glutathione, which is one of your body's biggest warriors against oxidative stress.
And if you want to juice up your Joe even more, a 2013 study published in the American Journal of Biomedical Sciences found that people who consumed the antioxidant concentrate that comes from the whole coffee fruit (which is what we infuse into Neuro Coffee) experienced significant reductions in free radical levels in the body after just one dose. This one-two punch for oxidative stress in the body is thought to also be the driving force behind the brain health support you get with your daily cup of Neuro Coffee as well.
Get Your Zen On
Performing exercise that’s good for your body and your brain can boost your ability to fight off oxidative stress. Another 2013 study published in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity compared the effects of Tai Chi with those of walking in older individuals. Participants had to walk or perform Tai Chi for 60 minutes a day for 6 months. Those who did Tai Chi had lower levels of oxidative stress and higher levels of protective antioxidants, compared to those who walked. Other mind-body practices like yoga and meditation are also thought to yield similar results.
Season to Taste
Several spices and herbs are well known for their high antioxidant content: Cinnamon contains antioxidants that may help with blood sugar control, while turmeric contains antioxidants that fight inflammation, and Rosemary contains antioxidants that can even fight oxidation outside your body.
A 2010 study from the Journal of Food Science suggests that the antioxidants in rosemary can help ward off the formation of some pro-carcinogenic compounds that occur when fat is oxidized. (Read: When you char meat at high temperatures.)
Additionally, other research suggests that a specific antioxidant found in Rosemary called carnosol may have beneficial effects on memory and even play a role in warding of memory-loss diseases, like Alzheimer’s.
Get More Magnesium
A lot of the oxidative-stress-fighting benefits of a number of fruits and vegetables comes from their abilities to add magnesium to your diet, according to a study published in the journal Nutrition. This matters because magnesium is thought to stave off oxidative stress in your blood vessels—which is incredibly important for your cardiovascular health—and your liver, according to researchers at The George Washington University Medical Center.
Foods like spinach, beans, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, and chard are ultra-high in magnesium. But unfortunately, for many, eating a variety of magnesium-rich foods throughout the day still isn’t enough. Taking a 400mg magnesium supplement each day, like I do, is a good way to insure your body is getting optimal levels of the good stuff.
Eat More Broccoli
Did you hear that? That was the sound of kids everywhere screaming. Unfortunately for the broccoli-haters out there, it’s the poster-child for cancer-fighting veggies, due to a group of antioxidants called isothiocyanates. Broccoli contains one of the most potent isothiocyanates—sulforaphane. Sulforaphanes can ward off a variety of sources of oxidative stress, including UV light by strengthening the body’s own defense systems.
Take Afternoon Tea Seriously
Herbalists and ayurvedic medicine practitioners have been touting the oxidative-stress-busting benefits of ginger for centuries, and science is finally starting to catch up.
According to a study in the Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness, consuming approximately 250mg ginger every day can reduce markers of oxidative stress and increase antioxidant totals in the body. This result was found in obese individuals, who are in a state of near constant oxidative stress, due to the presence of extra body fat. In the study, participants consumed an extract, but you can just steep one cup of ginger tea to acquire a similar amount.
Win the War One Battle at a Time
Unfortunately, combating oxidative stress isn’t a one-and-done kind of deal. As we age, it becomes an even more powerful force in deterioration of health and wellness. However, the good news is that there are a number of simple options for fighting back bit by bit.