Oxidative stress is a term used to describe how processes in the body that use oxygen to drive chemical reactions can lead to the formation of free radicals. Many people are under the mistaken impression that oxidative stress and free radicals are “bad”.
This is not true. In fact, normal metabolism requires a certain amount of free radicals and oxidative stress to function properly. It is only when free radicals and oxidative stress are excessive or pathological that problems arise.
Most people have heard of the term “antioxidants”. Antioxidants are substances that can reduce free radicals and oxidative stress. Some of the more well known antioxidants are co-enzyme q-10, vitamin E (tocopherols and tocotrienols), and alpha lipoic acid.
One of the most important antioxidants is cholesterol. When someone has very high levels of oxidative stress, their cholesterol level may rise substantially. This is the body’s way of protecting itself from excessive oxidative stress and free radical damage.
How does one measure oxidative stress? A c-reactive protein level is one marker that is widely available. Some specialty labs will measure end products of free radical production. However, this is a very costly method and usually is not covered by insurance.
A very useful method is via a metabolically directed functional test. This is an office based method that can incorporate a simple urine test (urinary surface tension) to measure products of oxidative metabolism.