When you think of threats to your body, you most likely conjure images of knife-wielding muggers, cancer, or wild animals, but did you know that your cells are under attack every day?
Processed foods, chemical exposure, and environmental factors are all part of modern-day life and are all sources of oxidative stress. While you can’t avoid oxidative stress entirely, it is critical to identify and limit areas of exposure in your life as it can lead to several ailments — including AFib.
What is oxidative stress?
When antioxidant levels are too low in the body, oxidative stress takes over. Think about rust and how it deteriorates metal. It becomes weak, discolored, and develops holes. That’s oxidation in progress.
The same thing can happen in your body. But instead of rust, you get tissue damage. The cause of oxidative stress is free radicals, the unstable molecules that contain oxygen.
You do need some free radicals. They stimulate critical bodily processes and can help the immune system function or even allow the heart to pump blood faster in stressful situations. Yet too many free radicals can cause a serious imbalance. Free radicals can damage and change the instructions coded in a strand of DNA. They may even cause cell death and inflammation — the precursor of many lifelong diseases.
So, what causes an imbalance of free radicals? Extremely low levels of antioxidants. But simply supplementing with antioxidants won’t fully treat the problem. To stop oxidative stress, you need to look at the underlying causes.
How does oxidative stress affect the heart?
When free radicals overwhelm antioxidant defense systems, cellular and molecular abnormalities occur. This ultimately leads to heart disease. In fact, oxidative stress is an underlying cause of atrial fibrillation (AFib). If untreated, AFib can cause stroke or death.
According to Clinical Trials, current treatments for AFib are not very effective. Often, people experience frequent relapses of abnormal heartbeats. One reason for the high relapse rate is that the treatments may not address the underlying cause of AFib.
A study published in the journal AHA found that risk factors of AFib are similar to those of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis (thickening or hardening of the arteries) is known to develop because of oxidative stress. In fact, other risk factors linked with AFib and associated with oxidative stress include:
- High blood pressure
- Abnormal cholesterol
- Coronary artery bypass surgery
Top causes of oxidative stress
If you exercise or have some inflammation in your body, you naturally produce some free radicals. This is normal and part of your body’s complex way of keeping itself healthy. The problem is, other factors like diet and the environment can multiply free radicals. Here are some of the top causes of oxidative stress.
You may have wondered why ozone advisories warn you to avoid outdoor activities like mowing the lawn or driving your car. Exhaust and gasoline vapors contain nitrogen oxides. These volatile compounds, together with heat and sunlight, are the main cause of ozone — better known as smog.
Unfortunately, smog is one of the worst-controlled pollutants in the US, according to the American Lung Association. And it’s one of the most dangerous when it comes to oxidative stress and your health.
Research from Toxicological Sciences found that animals exposed to low doses of ozone for 15 to 90 days developed oxidative stress. Another study, published in Circulation, looked at ozone-polluted air and cardiovascular changes. Study participants were 25 healthy adults aged 19 to 33.
Each participant was exposed to air with ozone or clean air for two hours. Exposures were at least two weeks apart. During each session, participants moved between 15-minute periods of cycling and rest. Researchers found changes in heart-related function immediately after ozone exposure. Another study published in the journal Environmental Perspectives found that long-term exposure to ambient ozone speeds up the development of atherosclerosis.
Most people are exposed to toxic chemicals like pesticides and cleaners on a daily basis. Exposure to these compounds leads to oxidative stress and can be seriously harmful.
Household chemicals, such as toilet bowl cleaners, oven cleaners, drain cleaners, and various products used in gardening, cause significant oxidative stress. Even the chlorine in your pool can do some damage when absorbed through the skin or inhaled.
Research published in Environmental Health Perspectives looked at the long-term use of household spray and scented products. Researchers found a link between chemical exposure and reduced heart rate variability (HRV).
HRV refers to variations that naturally occur in the beat-to-beat intervals of the heart as you breathe in and out. The more variation, the better. AFib, however, is a heart rhythm disorder. The study found that older adult women had the highest risk.
Too much sugar
Too much sugar in your diet and your system becomes overwhelmed. The cells’ response to insulin begins to fail. This means you are left with all of that extra glucose in the bloodstream. As a result, your body increases the production of free radicals. This increases inflammation, damaging your cells and causing oxidative stress. The more sugar you eat, the more oxidation occurs.
The liver, where the body detoxifies, also becomes overwhelmed with too much sugar. This leads to further inflammation, causing the body to produce even more free radicals.
All sugar, including white, brown, corn syrup, and other sweeteners — found in processed foods and beverages — are linked with cardiovascular diseases. A study published in the International Journal of Angiology concluded that added sugars induce several cardiovascular conditions, including:
- High blood pressure
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart failure
- Cardiac arrhythmias
How to protect yourself from oxidative stress
You can’t completely stop oxidative stress. But you aren’t defenseless against free radicals, either. There are things you can do to minimize the effects on your body.
Get your antioxidants
Antioxidants work to deactivate free radicals by binding to oxidants This stops the free radical damage in its tracks. Diets high in antioxidant-rich foods are linked to a reduced risk of developing heart disease. Natural antioxidants are found in foods, such as:
- Citrus fruits
- Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, goji berries
- Dark leafy green vegetables – kale and spinach
- Dark orange, red, yellow, and green vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
Remember, always eat organic!
Keep an eye on smog alerts
Ozone or smog levels are usually highest in the afternoon and early evening on hot, sunny days. Environmental conservation authorities generally inform the public whenever ozone concentrations are elevated. Check your local area for advisories.
- Try to limit your outdoor activities during peak ozone hours whenever you can.
- If possible, exercise outdoors in the morning hours when ozone levels are generally lower.
Be cautious with chemicals
This includes all cleaning chemicals. Switch to natural, homemade cleaning solutions such as vinegar and baking soda for your home. If you have to use chemicals in a work situation, wear gloves and a face mask to reduce exposure. You should also stick to organic produce or grow your own with organic compost to avoid pesticides and other garden toxins.
Your cells are being threatened daily. But you can stop oxidative stress by managing stressors that throw your antioxidants and free radicals out of balance. Consider our Envirotoxins test to help assess your toxic burden and start your journey towards heart health. Getting a handle on oxidative stress means getting a handle on AFib.
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Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD