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  • Writer's pictureNgo Anh Cac Nguyen

Exploring Oxidative Stress and Lifestyle Management

Oxidative stress is a key factor in various health issues, ranging from common concerns like skin aging to more serious conditions such as cancers, cardiovascular diseases, dementia, chronic pain, etc. (4). It is caused by the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), or so called free radicals, which can cause severe damage to cells and tissues (3,4). However, in some cases, these reactive substances can be surprisingly beneficial to our body’s mechanism (4). Hence, what can we do and implement in our lifestyle to better manage the impact of oxidative stress on our health?

What is oxidative stress? 

Oxidative stress is the abnormal increase in the level of reactive oxygen species (ROS). These are highly reactive molecules containing oxygen without the moderation of antioxidant mechanisms (1). 

The formation of types of ROS depends on the energy level of oxygen during interactions. Singlet state oxygen has spin-paired electrons and stays as a non-radical with high-energy species. It tends to react with other non-radical, singlet state compounds containing double bonds (C=C, C=O). This is why most food components, such as carbohydrates and proteins, are relatively reactive with the singlet state oxygen. Unlike the singlet state, the lowest energy state of oxygen is the triplet state, which contains 2 unpaired electrons, making it reactive primarily with other radical species (5).

Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS): Their Dual Role in Health and Diseases 

Any type of ROS formed is highly reactive and causes damage to cellular structures, including membranes, proteins and especially DNA, playing a role in the development of cancers, cardiovascular diseases, dementia, chronic pain, etc. (3,4). Oxidative stress occurs in response to temperature change, exposure to UV radiation, pollution, smoking cigarettes, inflammation, and more (5). ROS can also aggravate skin pigmentation and aging, affecting the skin microbiota which can lead to skin disorders like skin tone unevenness, wrinkles, etc (8). 

Nevertheless, ROS are also recognized for their dual nature, playing a beneficial role in addition to a detrimental one. ROS at moderate concentrations are involved in cellular defence against pathogens, acting as secondary messengers in signalling pathways and inducing mitogenic responses (4).

Healthy lifestyle for managing oxidative stress 

Lifestyle is an important factor in reducing the risk of oxidative stress. This includes promoting the awareness of a healthy lifestyle to reduce oxidative stress, for example by minimising exposure to environmental pollutants, reducing the frequency of smoking and modifying diets (6). Especially, dietary management emerges as a promising intervention, showing noticeable effects. Clinical data suggests that low-carbohydrate diets, Mediterranean diets or antioxidant-rich sources of food are particularly good dietary strategies (2,3). 

Antioxidants refer to substances or mechanisms that postpone autoxidation by either preventing the formation of free radicals or disrupting the spread of free radicals (7). Food sources can be rich sources of antioxidants because they have developed antioxidant systems due to facing constant oxidative stress whether they are alive or not. Those antioxidants include compounds like flavonoids, phenolic acids, carotenoids, and tocopherols. Spices and herbs, which are used in foods or medicinal mixtures, often contain high concentrations of these compounds (5). (Table 3) 

When it comes to skin protection from oxidative stress, vitamin C, resveratrol and ferulic acid are antioxidants that are used as anti-aging and anti-pigmenting components in cosmetic products like sun cream (8).

In conclusion, oxidative stress, driven by reactive oxygen species (ROS), affects our health in diverse ways, from skin aging to severe diseases. Lifestyle adjustments, especially antioxidant-rich diets, show promise in managing this complex interplay. Understanding this balance is key to promoting better health and well-being.


  • (1) Preiser, J.C., 2012. Oxidative stress. Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, 36(2), pp.147-154. 

  • (2) Kaushik, A.S., Strath, L.J. and Sorge, R.E., 2020. Dietary interventions for treatment of chronic pain: oxidative stress and inflammation. Pain and Therapy, 9, pp.487-498. 

  • (3) Diplock AT, Charleux JL, Crozier-Willi G, et al. Functional food science and defence against reactive oxygen species. British Journal of Nutrition 1998; 80(Suppl 1):S77-S112. 

  • (4) Valko M, Leibfritz D, Moncol J, et al. Free radicals and antioxidants in normal physiological functions and human disease. International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology 2007; 39(1):44-84. 

  • (5) Brewer, M.S., 2011. Natural antioxidants: sources, compounds, mechanisms of action, and potential applications. Comprehensive reviews in food science and food safety, 10(4), pp.221-247. 

  • (6) Poljsak, B., 2011. Strategies for reducing or preventing the generation of oxidative stress. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2011. 

  • (7) Nawar WF. 1996. Lipids. In: Fennema O, editor. Food chemistry. 3rd ed. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc. p 225–320.

  • (8) Chen, J., Liu, Y., Zhao, Z. and Qiu, J., 2021. Oxidative stress in the skin: Impact and related protection. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 43(5), pp.495-509. 

  • McCormick Institute Antioxidant Comparison. 2009. Curcumin: a natural standards review. Available from: Accessed Oct 2023. 

  • Halvorsen R, Carlsen M, Phillips K, Bohn S, Holte K, Jacobs D, Jr, Blonhoff R. 2006. Content of redox-active compounds (ie, antioxidants) in foods consumed in the United States. Am J Clin Nut 84:95–135.


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