Fact Checked By Erica Digap, BS, CN
August 31, 2021
Your brain is the control center for your body, managing everything from your mood to your cardiovascular system.
As such, it’s one of our most important organs and should be well taken care of.
Unfortunately, your brain function could be compromised by a process known as “oxidative stress.”
Oxidative stress can damage your brain cells, leading to decreased cognition, focus, and memory abilities as you age.
It’s even been linked to more serious issues like neurodegenerative disorders.
So what can you do to minimize this damaging phenomenon and keep your brain in tip-top shape?
As it turns out, the solution can start with your diet.
Here’s how oxidative stress takes its toll on your brain, and how a diet rich in antioxidants can help.
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What Is Oxidative Stress?
First, let’s get a little technical.
Oxygen is a crucial compound for all of our cells (hence the importance of breathing!) But when our bodies use oxygen for energy, the chemical reaction also produces “free radicals” which are highly reactive compounds (1).
Sometimes free radicals are beneficial. For example, they are used by our immune system to destroy foreign pathogens which could cause illness and disease.
But unfortunately, because they are so highly reactive, free radicals can also cause serious damage to other cells in the body. This can lead to a whole host of serious health issues down the line.
For example, our DNA and proteins, both of which are essential for the structure and function of our entire body, can be damaged by these incredibly volatile free radicals.
Usually, our body has natural antioxidant defenses in place to neutralize free radicals and minimize their damaging oxidative effects on our cells. However, oxidative stress takes this natural oxidation process to the next level, and your body can’t always manage this stress on its own.
Oxidative stress refers to an imbalance between those reactive free radicals and the antioxidant compounds that our body makes to counteract the damage. The resulting cell damage has been linked to serious conditions like diabetes, hypertension, cancers, and more (2).
Besides the natural production of free radicals, oxidative stress can also happen due to environmental factors. For example, smoking, pollution and poor air quality all contribute to oxidative stress.
A poor diet that is high in inflammatory foods like poor-quality carbohydrates, animal-based proteins, and unhealthy fats are also thought to contribute to oxidative stress (3).
To put it simply: oxidative stress means that there are too many free radicals in your body for your natural antioxidant defenses to put up a fight on their own. If left unaddressed, the damage can be devastating for your entire body including your brain.
So What Does Oxidative Stress Mean For Your Brain?
If you’ve noticed a frustrating decline in your memory and comprehension as you grow older, oxidative stress might be to blame.
Oxidative stress is very closely linked with aging. Biologically, aging means that you’re slowly losing function in your tissues and organs - and this is very often attributed to the oxidative damage that free radicals have on your cells.
This can result in the gradual decline in cognitive function that we chalk up to getting older. But the resulting brain cell damage can be even more serious.
Oxidative stress is linked with several aging-related diseases, including the ones that cause the most cognitive impairment. For example, dementia is often attributed to cell damage from oxidative stress (4).
In addition, oxidative stress also contributes to other neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, as well as conditions like depression and memory loss (5).
How Antioxidants Boost Your Brain Health
As previously mentioned, poor diets are thought to be a major contributor to oxidative stress and the resulting damage.
Luckily, this means that improving your diet and filling it with antioxidant-rich foods can help!
As the name suggests, antioxidants are molecules that can prevent oxidative damage by neutralizing the reactive and damaging effects of free radicals.
Remember, your body has the means to produce antioxidant compounds on its own. But when it needs more protection, as in the case with oxidative damage, you can introduce more antioxidants through your diet.
Antioxidants are well-known for their abilities to assist your body in boosting immune health, minimizing the risk of developing chronic diseases, and slowing down the effects of aging (6).
So eating enough antioxidants can also play a huge role in protecting your brain from oxidative damage as well.
Not only can this result in a sharper, clearer mind, but it can also play a role in preventing some of those devastating neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia down the line.
How To Get More Antioxidants In Your Diet
Several nutrients and compounds have antioxidant effects, and it’s important to get a good variety of them all for the best results.
There are several antioxidants that you can get in supplement form to complement a healthy diet. For example, the vitamins E and C are both powerful antioxidants that can be found in a well-rounded daily vitamin like Clinical Effect’s Daily Essentials along with other essential nutrients for supporting your overall health and wellness (7).
In addition, some of the best sources of antioxidants are plant-based foods, especially fruits and vegetables. In addition to being a good source of vitamins and minerals, plant foods also contain other nutrients with powerful antioxidant properties called polyphenols.
Polyphenols are powerful plant-based antioxidants that are found in a variety of different fruits and veggies. Scientists have found that eating a diet high in polyphenolic compounds can contribute to the prevention of a ton of ailments including neurodegenerative diseases (8).
Some of the best food sources for these antioxidants include berries, spinach, nuts, spinach, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and green tea. Even dark chocolate and red wine are great sources of antioxidants in moderation!
Variety is key here. For the best results, a general rule of thumb is to eat as many fruits and vegetables of different colors as possible. This is because each natural color indicates the presence of different powerful antioxidants and other nutrients (9)!
Oxidative stress can wreak havoc on every part of your body including your brain.
The best way to slow down the neurodegenerative effects of oxidation and aging is to increase your antioxidant intake.
With a healthy combination of fruits, vegetables, and nourishing supplements, you’re well on your way to preventing cell damage and keeping your mind active for the long run.
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