You are familiar with how stress feels: sweaty palms, dry mouth, a knot in your stomach, exhaustion. But what about the way stress affects you internally? That’s called oxidative stress, and it creates an imbalance in the body that leads to cell and tissue damage. Normally, your body has mechanisms in place to regulate oxidative stress, but outside factors, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, can upset that balance.
During these uncertain times, you may have felt the stress of loneliness, the fear that you or your family might get the virus, economic pressures, even the loss of a loved one. Besides leaving you feeling exhausted, these feelings can lead to imbalances in stress hormones that weaken your body’s ability to repair itself.
Fortunately, there are many proactive things you can do to help your body regulate oxidative stress. This article will show you how to manage stress and how antioxidants in food and supplements, meditation, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) remedies can help.
What is Oxidative Stress
Oxidation is a normal body function; it’s how our bodies process the oxygen we breathe in and send on to all our cells in the body. Free radicals are the by-product of this process and are generally kept from doing any damage by antioxidants. Oxidative stress happens when there is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants. That can happen when outside forces like environmental toxins or your own stress levels compromise your body’s ability to perform at its best. Free radicals turn rogue and damage the cells and tissues in your body.
The role of oxidative stress in disease
When those pesky free radicals get out of control, they start to damage cells and tissues. That can lead to a number of diseases, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, male infertility, and many inflammatory disorders.
How Lifestyle and Environment Affects Oxidative Stress Levels
Toxins in the world can contribute to oxidative stress damage. Some factors are out of your direct control, like air pollution levels, pesticides, and exposure to radiation. You may be exposed to these elements at your job or where you live.
However, some factors, such as smoking, excess weight, and excess alcohol consumption, are within your control. These lifestyle risks contribute to increased levels of inflammation and tissue damage from oxidative stress.
Let’s look at positive lifestyle choices that can help you fight inflammation.
How Diet Can Help Balance Oxidative Stress Levels
Diet is one of the main ways to protect yourself from the negative effects of oxidative stress. Thus, a diet full of fatty foods, processed meats, and saturated fats, doesn’t give your body the nutrients and minerals it needs to heal itself.
- berries, especially blueberries
- citrus fruit, such as oranges
- dark, leafy greens, including spinach and kale
- spices, such as turmeric and cinnamon
- fish, especially salmon
- nuts, including walnuts
For those who are always on the go, the Puri5 soluble fiber supplement containing a selection of vegetables and fruits would be perfect. The formula helps your body detox and eliminate toxins so that your body can better absorb the nutrients.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Herbs
Harness the power of plants! Just like a diet rich in plants can help reduce the effects of high oxidative stress levels, supplementing with herbal treatments can also deliver results.
Brandon Yew, a senior TCM physician at Real Health Medical clinic in Singapore, mentions herbal treatments as part of a holistic treatment plan prescribed by a TCM doctor. He also cautions that herbs can be very powerful and have unintended side effects, so it’s very important to use herbs under the guidance of a professional.
Here is a list of TCM herbs that can help with oxidative stress:
- Danshen root
- Silktree albizzia bark
- Lily bulb
- Weeping forsythiae capsule
- Chinese Thorowax root
- Nutgrass Galingale Rhizome
- Rose buds
- Turmeric root-tuber
TCM Treatments Can Help Relieve Oxidative Stress Symptoms
Physician Yew is a proponent of acupuncture, tuina, cupping, and other TCM treatments to manage the symptoms of oxidative stress. He recommends treatments that are “formulated carefully by the TCM physician to address specifically the unique body constitution of every individual patient.”
Research shows that acupuncture is effective in regulating oxidative stress. Not only did it increase the number of free-radical fighting antioxidants, but it also showed promise in helping to repair damaged tissues.
Try it yourself
If a trip to a TCM practitioner isn’t accessible for you, you can try an acupressure treatment at home. Here are some points that physician Yew mentions to combat the effects of oxidative stress. Physician Yew does caution that “acupressure can only help to manage mild symptoms. It is still strongly recommended to seek professional TCM help in conjunction with the medical doctor.”
- Yintang EX-HN3: At the forehead, at the midpoint between the two medial ends of the eyebrow.
- Taiyang EX-HN5: In the region of the temples, in the depression about one finger-breadth posterior to the midpoint between the lateral end of the eyebrow and the outer canthus.
- Shenmen HT7: On the wrist, at the ulnar end of the transverse crease of the wrist, in the depression on the radial side of the tendon m. flexor carpi ulnaris.
- Daling PC7: In the midpoint of the transverse crease of the wrist, between the 2 tendons of the anterior aspect of the forearm.
- Hegu LI4: On the dorsum of the hand, between the 1st and 2nd metacarpal bones.
- Zusanli ST36: On the anterior aspect of the lower leg, 4 fingers-breadth below the outer depression of the knee joint, one finger-breadth (middle finger) from the anterior crest of the tibia.
- Taichong LR3: On the dorsum of the foot, in the depression proximal to the 1st metatarsal space.
- Sanyinjiao SP6: On the inner lower leg, 4-fingers-breadth above the tip of the inner ankle bone, just behind the shin bone
Meditation and Other Stress Relief Techniques
Meditation is a well-known way to lower your stress level. You might only think of meditation as sitting quietly, but it can take on many forms. Take breathing exercises, for example. Focusing on your breath is a great way to meditate, lower your heart rate, and refocus your thoughts.
Chief TCM physician Chu I Ta from Real Health Medical clinic in Singapore also mentions the power of the TCM breathing technique known as “tortoise resting” to reduce stress. Physician Chu explains that this technique focuses more on the duration of the breath, instead of frequency. Here’s how to do it.
- First, start in a lying or sitting position. Place and overlap the palms on the lower abdomen, below the navel.
- Then, breathe in slowly through the nose, while the belly or abdominal area should be bulging out. Try to keep and push the air deep into the abdomen and lower back area. This inhalation procedure can extend from 10 to 15, 30 or even 60 seconds.
- Hold the inhalation for 5 to 10 seconds.
- Breathe out slowly through the mouth, which should be slightly open. When the diaphragm ascends, the belly or abdomen should retract in. Continue until the last breath is exhaled out from the abdomen to the mouth. This exhalation procedure can extend from 0 to 15, 30, or even 60 seconds.
- Finally, repeat the inhalation and exhalation 5-10 times. Practice twice per day, morning and night, before you sleep and after you wake up.
The importance of sleep
Speaking of sleep, not getting enough good quality sleep can lead to problems with how your body functions. Thus, when you’re asleep your body is able to heal itself. However, when you get less than seven to eight hours of sleep nightly, you are upping your risk for symptoms of oxidative stress, like skin problems, problems with thinking and memory, and serious illnesses like diabetes or cancer.
The COVID-19 pandemic, as we all know, has been stressful for everyone. It’s important to remember that you can take control of your health and take steps to minimize lasting damage caused by oxidative stress. Share this article with your family to keep them happy and healthy.
- NCBI. 2017. Oxidative Stress: Harms and Benefits for Human Health. [Accessed 6 December 2021]
- Kresser Institute. 2018. What Really Causes Oxidative Damage? [Accessed 6 December 2021]
- NCBI. 2018. Oxidative stress, aging, and disease. [Accessed 6 December 2021]
- NCBI. 2019. The Roles of Environmental Factors in Regulation of Oxidative Stress in Plant. [Accessed 6 December 2021]