Oxidative stress has become somewhat of a buzzword in healthcare today, but what exactly does oxidative stress refer to?
Simply put, oxidative stress refers to the burden on the body as a result of an over-production of free radicals (Figure 1). Free radicals are unstable molecules produced by normal metabolism (such as from mitochondrial energy production) that are necessary for certain immune function, like neutrophil phagocytosis. However, when there is an abnormally high amount, they can cause damage to cells and lead to a variety of health complications. The body has certain defense mechanisms to mitigate the damage caused by free radicals such as superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, and catalase. When these defenses fail to maintain proper balance, the resulting clinical effects can be significant.
When left unchecked, free radicals can stimulate the over-production of pro-inflammatory cytokines which contribute to autoimmune and cardiovascular disease, among others. Oxidative stress has also been found to be related to most chronic and neuropsychiatric conditions including: autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, hypertension, arthritis, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and psoriasis (Figure 2).
Oxidative stress is ubiquitous in many ill patients. Based on correlations with neuropsychiatric and other conditions, identification of oxidative stress levels could be utilized to investigate clinical symptoms. Monitoring and controlling oxidative stress has the potential to improve current health as well as prevent future clinical complaints.