In this lesson, we define inflammation, free radical activity, and oxidative stress. We also explore how elements in our modern world, such as environmental toxins, diet, stress, and drugs, contribute to these conditions.
Never before in history have we had so much opportunity to live a healthy life.
We have year-round access to advanced medical treatments, clean water, and fresh produce. However, our modern world has also exposed us to many harmful elements. Environmental toxins, processed foods, stress, and drugs all take a toll on the body. As a result, our bodies have been forced to deal with inflammation, free radical damage and oxidative stress.
In this lesson, we will discuss these factors and how they impact your health.
We are all familiar with the inflammation that comes with a scrape on the knee. Inflammation is the body’s natural reaction to something harmful or irritating.
Within moments, the skin surrounding the scrape gets red, swollen, and painful. Inflammation serves a valuable purpose. It’s an early and necessary step in the healing process. In the case of an accident or injury, it typically runs its course and all signs disappear within a few days.However, inflammation can occur inside the body. This type of inflammation can be chronic and systematic. For example, the linings of the blood vessels can become inflamed throughout the body.
Chronic inflammatory processes like these may not present with any symptoms until damage has already been done. For instance, chronic inflammation of blood vessel linings is thought to be associated with an increased risk of plaque buildup.There are types of internal inflammation that can present symptoms. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are types of inflammatory bowel disease, which is often abbreviated to IBD. IBD is a chronic condition that is characterized by widespread inflammation of the digestive tract.
Symptoms of IBD can be challenging to live with. They include abdominal pain and cramping, diarrhea, fever, and fatigue. IBD is an autoimmune disease, but its symptoms may be aggravated by a poor diet and stress.
Free Radicals ; Oxidative Stress
Many inflammation processes within the body are associated with an increase in the activity of free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that are missing an electron. This missing electron makes the free radical unstable. They long to be stable again and go crazy inside the body searching for a spare electron to grab on to. As they bounce around your body, they damage surrounding cells. The spare electron is usually stolen from another molecule. That molecule then steals from another.
This creates a chain reaction of free radical damage.There are many factors that can increase the production of free radicals. These include smoking, certain medications, radiation, metabolic processes, food additives, and physical or emotional stress. Antioxidants are molecules that donate electrons to free radicals. This calms the free radicals down, preventing further damage. Antioxidants can be obtained from foods and include vitamins C and E, as well as other micronutrients.If the body is unable to break the cascade of free radical damage, it can experience oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is defined as an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the available antioxidant defenses. It damages cell membranes, proteins, and DNA. In simpler terms, it’s the collective damage sustained by the body due to the constant free radical activity.
So, if you think of free radicals as tornadoes, then oxidative stress would be the collective damage the town sustained from those tornado strikes.
Let’s review. In this lesson, we learned that inflammation is the body’s natural reaction to something harmful or irritating. Internal inflammation can affect entire systems.
For example, we discussed inflammation in the linings of the blood vessels and inflammatory bowel disease, which is a chronic condition that is characterized by widespread inflammation of the digestive tract.We also learned about free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules that are missing an electron. Free radicals steal electrons from other molecules. These molecules then steal from other molecules, causing a chain reaction of damage. Antioxidants are molecules that donate electrons to free radicals and therefore calm the free radical activity.
If the body is unable to break the cascade of free radical damage, it can result in oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is defined as an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the available antioxidant defenses.
After reviewing this lesson, you should have the ability to:
- Describe the effects of inflammation in the body
- Explain what inflammatory bowel disease is
- Recall the relationship between free radicals, antioxidants and oxidative stress
Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.