Exercise and Oxidative Stress

The Big Idea Here

It would be too much to ask of you, my gentle browser, to task your patience by expecting you to read this entire page without a clear idea of what you are getting yourself in for.

I picture myself being limited to convey the Big Idea Here in a text message or two. This is my humble attempt to convince you to read on…

To create the energy we need, we have to breathe because oxygen is essential for the chemical fires that power every cell in our bodies. But each unit of energy that we create and use involves also a damaging side effect of “free radicals”, reactive molecules that (like embers from a fire) can damage our bodies’ own most vital components. Exercise involves the production of even more energy, and as a side-effect, more free radical damage.

It is essential to balance higher levels of exercise with higher levels of the micro-nutrients needed to keep free radical damage in check. But not too much, here again, there is a sweet spot to aim for.

Read on and learn more.

Exercise and Oxidative Stress

Oxidative Stress

Oxidative stress is a term that refers to damage to cells by free radicals that have oxygen in their composition. That’s a mouthful, since it begs the definition of a number of terms, and it requires a context that the average human simply does not have. And yet, this form of internal damage has been known about for decades and it is assumed to play a role, in one way or other, in aging and as the root cause of degenerative diseases, like heart attacks, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s, adult onset diabetes, and so on. Assuming that this model is true, and many believe that it is, then that would make oxidative stress the number one killer in the modern world by a long shot. This raises another important question: why does almost no one know about it? Sure, we’ve all heard about heart attacks, cancer, strokes, and so on. Unless you are unusually well read, you have likely never heard the term “oxidative stress” before.

Free radicals

Oxidative stress (and its cousins) involve the action of free radicals in the body. Let’s step back to what a free radical is. And I apologize profusely; but to get this, you’ll have to learn some quantum mechanics, which everyone assumes is difficult. Not true. It’s easy peasy. It’s just different than the way the world around us seems to work. Not hard, then; just different. Mainly it involves counting stuff in discrete numbers instead of measuring stuff in units like meters or kilograms or seconds. To get what a free radical is about, you first have to get something about electrons. Everyone knows that electrons have a charge, right. That’s why we get frizzy hair from static electricity. Electrons are negatively charged and protons are positively charged. Opposite charges attract; like charges repel. Pretty much everyone has heard this. Electron charges make everything from lightning flash to helping your computer work. So far so good. That’s quantum mechanics already by the way: all electrons have precisely the same amount of charge to the degree that scientists can measure it. Neat, huh? That’s why they say “quantum” because their counting distinct quantities. In old physics, you could have any amount of something, say mass: 1 pound or 1.1 pounds or 1.1111111111111 pounds. But not for charge: 1 unit precisely. You can count them.

But electrons do something else: they spin. Physicist find that electrons have precise unit of spin; namely ½. Some particles have twice as much spin, spin 1. And so on. All spins come in multiples of ½. (I bet you’re asking “Why not 1?” Good question. It is that the actual units come in chunks of something called Planck’s constant. That’s too deep into the rabbit hole though. If you’re a real geek, read this.) Because electrons spin, they have another feature: magnetism. If electrons move, they create a magnetic field; that’s how we get electromagnets and electric motors and electric generators and power out of wall sockets. Put a lot of electrons together with their little spins all lined up the same way and you have a magnet. That’s why bar magnets and horseshoe magnets are usually made out of iron: iron has lots of electrons in it that can be lined up and that don’t cancel each other out. Pay attention to what I just said. The electron spins would normally cancel each other out, if it wasn’t for quantum mechanics.

I mean, if I take several dozen bar magnets and set them at random positions on a table, then pretty quickly even small vibrations are going to get them align with their north poles and south poles all snapped together. Kids love this stuff. You can hold the magnets together with north pole to north pole and they refuse to come together. Put north to south, and zingo: they snap together. Here’s a video that shows just how “reactive” magnets can be. Think of these little magnets on their own as free radicals.

Electrons are like that as well: they like to get paired up with opposite spins together, just like the big magnets that we are all familiar with. [I bet you’re wondering what this has to do with exercise and heart attacks and how the heck did you get into this rabbit hole? Bear with the story. Keep reading. Might save your bacon. It might just be that someone is making money off you not knowing this stuff… Follow the money trail they say. Your brains aren’t leaking out of your ears yet, are they?] Anyway, down in all these atoms that we are made of, this magnetic pairing of electrons is going on. For any kind of atom, or molecule, or other tiny bit of chemical, there is a structure that tells whether the electrons are paired up or not. Well, one pretty good give away is if there is an odd number of them. But even if there is an even number, you can still have unpaired electrons.

Oxygen in its atomic form is just such a beast. Although it has 8 electrons, two of these are unpaired. If that seems counter-intuitive to you, you’re not the only one. The answer is that electrons don’t just wind up hanging around atoms in some random pattern. Every atom has the same set of rules for how electrons fly around the nucleus. The first rule has to do with energy. Electrons want to go to the lowest possible energy. The next rule has to do with getting paired up. There wind up being “shells” or “layers” or “levels” of energy like slots into which pairs of electrons can go. Oxygen gets 8 electrons. Two of those go into the lowest energy shell (called 1s for…, well don’t worry why). Another two go into the next energy level (called 2s for… well, forget about it). That’s four so far and we’ve got four left. At the next energy shell, thing get a touch more complicated. There are three ways to pair up electrons in this shell (called 2p for dumb reasons, [well, seemed smart at the time, has to do with spectrometry, how atoms emit light in distinct colors]). That is, there are three of these p slots that can each hold two electrons. So, we can get the next four electrons into these energy positions. That means we put the first three of those four into one of the p-shells. We’ve got one electron left over and it gets to pair up with one of the electrons in one of the three p-shells. That leaves oxygen with two electrons unpaired in two of the three p-shells.

Take a counter-example from the big world: our solar system. Now that they’ve kicked out Pluto, our solar system has 8 planets, same number as oxygen’s electrons. Planets2013 If the solar system worked like oxygen, we’d have Mercury and Venus at the same distance from the sun but kind of wandering around all over on. They’d spin on their axes in the opposite directions so that their magnetic poles would line up north to south. Then we’d have Earth and Mars behaving like Mercury and Venus, but further away. That would be like the s-shells, 1s and 2s. Then things would get very different. The p-shells have sort of dumb-bell shapes and the three of them are all at right angles to each other. Nothing like any planetary orbit. So Jupiter and Saturn would be in these elongated orbits that would stretch way out like two arms away from the Sun. They’d have their spins on their axes going the opposite ways. Then would come Neptune. It would be on a similar dumb-bell orbit at right angles to what Jupiter and Saturn were doing. If we say Jupiter and Saturn are going front and back, then Neptune would be going right and left. Finally we’d get Uranus. It would be in this elongated dumb-bell orbit but going up and down. Neptune and Uranus would be “unpaired”. Our solar system would be a “radical”. It would want to capture two more planets from any neighboring solar system. Or it would want to find another solar system like itself and share those unpaired outer planets. The whole arrangement would look sort of like a 3-dimensional 6-pointed star with a ball in the middle. Kind of like this origami:

3-D 6-pointed star

3-D 6-pointed star

Well, not exactly like that, but you get the picture, I hope. The planets (or electrons) on these p-shell orbits spend more of their time far away than they do close in. That origami is the opposite way around; harder to make as a model of an atom though. Pretty as it is.

All of this makes a lone oxygen atom rather like a great white shark in the world of chemistry. It will eat up just about anything to get itself another couple of electrons to pair up with its two unpaired electrons. A lone oxygen atom hates hates hates to be a lone oxygen atom, in effect. That’s why the oxygen we breath comes in the form of molecules with two atoms bound together. When two lone atoms of oxygen encounter one another, it’s like two bar magnets snapping together. Bang and they are stuck but good. It takes a lot of energy to break them back up.

The same thing is true of hydrogen. Only 1 electron so it has to be unpaired. Put hydrogen and oxygen together and there will be a bang. (See the story of the Hindenburg for convincing evidence.) What comes out is H2O, water. It is not a radical. The oxygen basically steals the two electrons it wants from the two hydrogens, and life is good for the water molecule. Very stable.

This is why oxygen starts fires. This is why our planet is covered with oceans of water. That is why iron rusts and pennies turn brown. That is why you and I and practically every other creature that has walked or crawled or swum on Earth is or has been alive. It is why all of these living things are filled with water.

Oxygen is highly reactive. This has nothing to do with whether or not some chemical with oxygen in it has an unbalanced charge. For example, an oxygen atom with two extra electrons (aka an ion) is negatively charged but it’s not a radical. That oxygen atom has stolen the two extra electrons it wants. On the other hand, hydrogen peroxide, H2O2, is neutral but it is a radical. There is one too many oxygens in that molecule, and so it is about as reactive as a free oxygen atom.

Oxidation and reduction (aka redox)

We’ve seen that oxygen wants to take electrons away from other atoms or molecules. In such a situation (or reaction as a chemist would say), oxygen gains electrons and the other “species” (more chemistry jargon for any old chunk of stuff) loses (or donates) electrons. This happens so often in chemistry that they’ve given it special names: oxidation and reduction. Reactions where oxidation and reduction occur (well they have to happen together don’t they) are called redox reactions for short. There are two parts:

  • the species being oxidized loses electrons
  • the species being reduced gains electrons

If iron rusts, then it is being oxidized. The oxygen involved is being reduced. Oxygen is the world’s foremost (but not the only) oxidizing agent. There are many reducing agents around. In the context of biology, they are often called “antioxidants” (AO). A biological antioxidant is a molecule that will easily give up electrons to free radicals in order to protect or repair other molecules that might be or have been oxidized. Really useful AOs include things like Vitamin C.

Reactive Oxygen Species

Molecules or ions that include oxygen and that are radicals are often called “reactive oxygen species” (ROS) in chemistry. [Not to be confuse with the ROUSes in Princess Bride. Very different beasts. Still, beasts.] I’m going to stop here for a moment and suggest strongly that you read through that Wikipedia article on the ROS. [Look at the one on Princess Bride too if you like, but the ROS one is important.]  It is critical that you realize that I am not making any of this stuff up. It is all sound solid science and the cure has nothing to do with waving crystals at your chakras. That article lists examples of damage caused by ROS in the body:

  1. damage to DNA (this can lead to cancer)
  2. oxidation of fatty acids in lipids (this can break down cell walls or damage cholesterol in blood flow leading to atherosclerosis)
  3. oxidation of amino acids in proteins (leading to damaged proteins)
  4. inactivation of enzymes needed for metabolism (limiting the body’s ability to function)

Whoops! If all of this is going on, you’d think modern medicine would be hot on the trail of how to get rid of these little buggers, right? Well, there are a few issues. You can read the article for more detail on examples of ROS with biological significance, like hydrogen peroxide and superoxide anion and et cetera. [There’ll be a quiz at the end of this page. Not!]

In terms of we humans and ROS, there are two sources: from outside and from inside. Free radicals coming from outside sources include tobacco smoke, pollutants, drugs, xenobiotics and radiation. We encounter these external sources almost every day in the modern world. Buy a new car; inhale that new car smell. Yummy, but full of free radicals. Stand near a smoker, or be one: a single puff of cigarette smoke contains about 100 trillion free radicals. Stand in the sun or get an x-ray. Interestingly enough, the UV rays of the sun and x-rays have enough energy to knock electrons out of our molecules: the basic effect is identical to being oxidized; that is, a loss of one or more electrons. If you do not believe that oxidative stress causes damage, then consider what happens to someone who has been exposed to too much radiation. Much of the damage of a dose of radiation is just this ionization effect; that is, oxidative stress. Xenobiotics are chemicals in our environment that can accumulate within us. Examples include all sorts of junk: PBA in plastics, growth hormones in milk, PCBs from transformer oils and used in making asphalt in the roads, and so on. All this modern chemistry gets into us and promotes free radical damage.

Maybe we could limit our exposure to these external sources; but there are also fundamentally critical internal sources of free radical damage that we cannot live without. We have to breathe. We have to take in oxygen to oxidize our carbohydrates and fats in order to produce the energy to live. This process is called cellular respiration. It goes on primarily within our mitochondria. [That’s item 9 on the image of the cell at the head of this page.] The process of cellular respiration that takes in glucose and produces adenosine triphosphate (ATP) produces ROS on a continuous basis. ATP is the basic coin of energy in our bodies. You can read more about ATP and macro-nutrition in another article on this site. Current estimates are that cellular respiration generates perhaps as many as 1 free radical ROS for every 50 molecules of ATP (2% rate) or as few as 1 free radical for every 800 molecules of ATP (0.12% rate) that our bodies produce. The bad news here is that our bodies generate huge numbers of ATP molecules in order to deliver the total number of Calories that we require in a day. The number is something on the order of 10 with 22 0s after it. So if the number of ROS is on the order of a 1/10th of a percent to 1 percent for each ATP, that means that we are huge ROS production engines from within.

Reactive Nitrogen Species

More bad news. There are also biological free radicals in the form of reactive nitrogen species (RNS). Just as in the case of ROS though, the body has developed broad AO defenses that are effective against RNS as well. The main point here is that an RNS is an oxidizing agent. Hence, the body’s reducing agents will play a role in blocking or repairing their effects. RNS can work together with ROS to create combined forms of damage to specific cells. Read the Wikipedia article and its references to learn more.

Natural Antioxidant Defenses & Weapons

Our bodies, actually the bodies of all plants and animals, have evolved strong antioxidant defenses against oxidative stress. Among these mechanisms include the natural death of cells. If, or more likely, when, a mitochondrion becomes overly damaged due to oxidative stress, a process called apoptosis begins. This is not at all unusual; in an adult, somewhere between 50 and 70 billion cells die this way each day. An adult human has around 37 trillion cells; so cell death is occurring at a rate of around 0.13% of total cells per day. In general, a trigger process occurs within the cell that causes it to self-destruct from within; and it is then consumed by immune cells called phagocytes. [Hold this thought. Cells are not repaired so much as they are completely destroyed and broken down into component pieces. Then they are replaced with new cells.]

To control destruction by oxidative stress, the body uses antioxidants. Many are made internally; many have to be obtained by mouth. These include Vitamin C; a powerful AO. Plants create and store a good deal of Vitamin C, as do many animal species. Mankind has lost this ability along the evolutionary pathway, however; we have to get Vitamin C by mouth (or injection if it comes to that).

You should by now be realizing how important AOs are for defense against the natural and internal degeneration of your own physical body due to oxidative stress. You would not be the first. And one of the first natural reactions would be to assume that if, say, 100 milligrams of Vitamin C (or whatever) were good, then 1,000 milligrams is better and 10,000 is best. One would think similar grand thoughts about other AOs, and for those that our bodies create, getting even more of the dietary components that they are made from.

This turns out not to be true. Not having enough AOs can be problematic, leading to disease and a shortened life; but overdoing it, especially with any single AO turns out to have limited benefit. While it is true that many people have very poor AO status due to a combination of poor diet and repeated sickness, achieving a healthy base with proper micro-nutrition is a kind of “sweet spot”. I talk about that in another article here on micro-nutrition. In other words, and to be quite frank, people want to live until they die. They don’t want to spend 20 years gradually breaking apart due to repeated episodes of cancer, multiple heart attacks, the degeneration of Alzheimer’s, and the like. They’d prefer to keel over while walking hand in hand down the beach at sunset with the partner they most care about. People don’t want to spend decades at the job of dying. It may be an essential transition but let’s do it with some grace, shall we?

Which brings me to another observation. Our bodies not only have defenses against oxidative damage; they also have weaponized it. Part of the arsenal of our immune systems is the generation of oxidative stress within invading microbes. In the same way that our own cells undergo apoptosis due to internal oxidative damage, cells in our immune system have the capacity to trigger apoptosis in invading microbes by generating oxidative stress within them. One of my own personal favorites in terms of this arsenal is something called a granzyme. You can think of this as a sort of grenade that certain immune cells carry along with them. If they find a cell infected by a virus or becoming cancerous, they essentially drill a hole in it and lob in a granzyme or three. Once activated, these guys are like little PacMen that start slice the heck out of the invader’s internal machinery, including breaking into the mitochondria and releasing all of its free radicals. The bad news about these granzyme dudes is that once they’ve done their job of munching up the invader, they can wind up loose in the site of an infection creating inflammation. They have been found in higher than average concentrations in arthritic joints and are probably responsible for the joint damage seen in that condition; they’re just happily munching up cartilage and bone inside the afflicted individual. This is when a good weapon goes bad.

Exercise

Image above by Robeter at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Exercise

Finally we’ve got to a point where we can talk about the good and bad of exercise. First, if you haven’t read my article on macro-nutrition and exercise, you might want to do that first. You’ll get some useful background on the ideas of catabolic and anabolic processes; that is, on how our metabolisms break stuff down into building blocks (catabolism) and then how those building blocks are used to create new stuff or new energy (anabolism). These two processes are parallel aspects of metabolism; how our bodies change stuff into other stuff.

Exercise is no exception to this two-sided aspect of all of our metabolic processes. Exercise breaks stuff down and exercise builds stuff up. The most obvious stuff that exercise breaks down are carbohydrates to create energy. In this regard, exercise kicks up the rate of production of ATP; but it also kicks up the production of free radicals as you just learned. More energy, more ATP, more oxidative stress. The most obvious stuff that exercise is building up is muscle; but there are other components being affected too; for example, bone. The g-forces on the bone due to running or weight-bearing exercises help promote proper bone growth and strength. This is too complex to dive into here; and it has implications for immunity also (but that’s another story).

So much for the obvious stuff: exercise will drive up oxidative stress (and so it demands more carbohydrate & AO resources) and it will drive up muscle tissue production (so it demands more protein resources). But it does so much more than this.

The Paleo Life-Style

The Paleo Diet is popular these days. I don’t have much problem with that diet, throw in some of the Mediterranean diet and it’s pretty good. But people ignore that along with the Paleo Diet ought to come a Paleo life-style. I should know. I have the following document to prove my Paleo street creds:

I'm a Paleo-European

I’m a Paleo-European

I got that from DNA testing. Just thought I’d prove I know what I’m talking about. (Just joking.) Apparently my distant ancestors were hanging out in caves in the south of France during the last Ice Age.

What do I mean by a Paleo life-style? There were two broadly distinct aspects to life back in those days: the good times and the starvation times. That didn’t apply to just humans; it applied (and still applies) to most animals. In the good times, the weather is great, the trees are producing fruit, there are seeds to be gathered, the streams are full of fish, there are shellfish near the ocean or sea shore, game is plentiful, and food is there to be hunted and gathered by hunters and gatherers. However, the buffalo don’t just park themselves by your cave entrance and the fruit trees nearby have all been picked over by the villagers. You have to take a good hike to do that hunting and gathering. While you’re out and about, you’re getting both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Your muscles are subject to micro-tears and more significant injuries; after all, that buffalo herd might resist being taken down. Every once in a while, the hunter himself becomes the hunted. Long and short of it: summertime is sweet, but you have to earn your keep. Your pushing yourself to your limits on a regular basis; but you are growing strong, building muscle and storing fat. Because …

The other aspect of life is the starvation time: drought, winter, what have you. The game is gone. The land is frozen over. You can’t get to the fish and nothing is growing. You may have some food stored away in the cave or the tent, but everyone has to live off those rations. Who knows how long this will last? You are like the hibernating bear; you stay in your cave and shiver just enough to keep yourself from freezing. Internally, your body is basically digesting itself (catabolizing its stores of fat and protein) for the bare minimum amount of energy.

Along with the good times and the bad times, we mammals have evolved two very different metabolic pathways that are adapted to each of these conditions. The good times pathway might well be called anti-inflammatory. The bad times pathway is the pro-inflammatory pathway.

Here is a schematic diagram of these two metabolic pathways. They both start with fatty acids. [Click on the image for a larger version.]

Inflammatory pathways

Inflammatory pathways

The Omega-6 fatty acid metabolic pathway is used to produce pro-inflammatory components (labelled red). The Omega-3 fatty acid pathway is used to produce anti-inflammatory components (labelled blue). For the beginner in all of this, there are a few salient points worth noting.

  1. Omega-3 fatty acids come primarily from fish and flax seed (and other seeds). These would have been available in the good times.
  2. Omega-6 fatty acids are animal fats. These would have been stored in our bodies for the bad times.
  3. DHA & EPA are components of many supplementary omega-3 products.
  4. There are many hormones classified as leukotrienes. Some are often called cytokines. A primary anti-inflammatory version is cytokine-10 (C10). A primary pro-inflammatory version is cytokine-6 (C6).
  5. The entire pro-inflammatory pathway can be blocked by EPA.
  6. The entire pro-inflammatory pathway can be activated with high levels of insulin (as generated with a modern high glycemic index diet).
  7. COX-2 is an enzyme that catalyzes (enables) the production of prostaglandin E2. Many over the counter pain killers are COX-2 inhibitors. Their primary function is to block the production of PG-E2. [Unfortunately, they also block COX-1, which is essential in the digestive tract.]
  8.  One form of Vitamin E (gamma tocopherol) and curcumin (an extract from the spice, turmeric) can also act as COX-2 inhibitors in the sense that they block the production of PG-E2 and inflammatory leukotrienes.

The exercise typical of a Paleo good times life-style activates the anti-inflammatory pathway and produces more C-10. C-10 is a hormone that signals the body to repair and build tissue anabolically. Actually, C-6 levels also increase to assist in identifying damaged tissue in need of being torn down as well.

In contrast, the sedentary aspects of a Paleo bad times life-style activated the pro-inflammatory pathway and shuts down the production of C-10. Small amounts of C-6 remain in the blood and are used primarily to mark adipose and protein tissue for catabolism; that is, to be used to fuel the fires of cellular respiration from stored energy.

The Modern Life-Style

Well, that’s our evolution. What about our modern life-style? Is it good times or bad times? It has some of both for most people. It has highly available food; so that’s like the good times. It also has a very sedentary life-style; so that’s like the bad times. It’s neither fish nor fowl.

The Standard American Diet (SAD) has a high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids; anywhere from 20:1 to 40:1. A sound Paleo good times diet would be more like 4:1. Typical omega-6 fatty acids come from animal fats including dairy (so milk, cheese, yogurt etc are included), but also many plant sources, including canola, corn, peanut & olive oils. Hence fried foods and baked goods are packed with omega-6s. Omega-3s come primarily from cold water fish and flax seed, but other seeds comprise good plant sources as well. A problem with many cold water fish in these modern times is their high levels of heavy metal contaminants like mercury. The same applies to many omega-3 supplements.

The SAD has carbohydrates in great measure and most of those are high glycemic. I shall have to delve into the concept of the glycemic index more deeply later. For now, understand that it refers to the rate at which glucose hits the blood stream after a meal. A glycemic index of 100 would mean that the entire carbohydrate content of that food appears instantly in the blood stream as glucose. Glucose tablets would have a glycemic index of pretty much 100. Except in extreme circumstances, this is not a good thing.

The modern life-style is pretty much like this. We are starving in our tents (playing video games to keep warm). Then, food is dropped by parachute outside. All we have to do is walk a few steps in order to gorge on chips, hamburgers, sodas. Our blood sugar rises dramatically. Our insulin levels spike upwards to handle this flood of glucose. This induces a corresponding increase in C-6 and related pro-inflammatory hormones. Why? Our bodies know that it is now safe to digest more of ourselves because a big dose of food is on the way.

So for the typical modern person, who never exercises, or who does so only very occasionally, the anti-inflammatory pathway is rarely activated. The pro-inflammatory pathway is always on. In spite of having access to a good diet, little of that diet is used anabolically to rebuild tissue. Too much goes to the production of blood sugar. Since the muscles are inactive, the excess Calories coming in go to adipose tissue and fat storage. This leads to something called Metabolic Syndrome. Metabolic Syndrome is so important in its own right that it will be another topic that I’ll address here shortly.

Inflammation

What does inflammation do? Well, it’s certainly good for something, otherwise why would we have evolved to express it? There are five classic signs of inflammation: redness, swelling, pain, fever, and loss of function. Try dropping a heavy piece of furniture on your foot and you will experience all of these in short order. Same result will occur for any variety of small cuts and contusions as well as infections. Inflammation is an indication that the immune system is catabolizing tissue (breaking it down in preparation for replacement).

So a pro-inflammatory response is good in situations where the body has some localized and acute injury. I cut myself. Some tissue is damaged. Inflammation occurs. The broken skin and other tissue becomes inflamed. It is broken down and the pieces carted away. Any invading microbes are destroyed too. Then an anti-inflammatory phase begins and that damaged tissue is replaced.

Catabolism followed by anabolism. All is well with the world. I hurt myself; and I get better.

But what about this constant internal damage due to oxidative stress? And how does exercise play into the rate at which this damage is occurring? Let me say categorically that exercise is a good thing. It does drive up the rate at which free radicals are being produced, yes. But it’s beneficial effects in activating the anti-inflammatory anabolic pathways far outweigh any additional damage.

You see, you really have just two choices. You can live a sedentary life-style and your body will digest itself slowly until it is essentially all gone. Or you can get active and get the rate at which your body is rebuilding itself to be higher than the rate at which it is falling apart. The first approach is bad: catabolism is greater than anabolism. The second approach is good: anabolism is greater than or equal to catabolism.

Of course, in that simple analysis, I’m ignoring storing huge swaths of fat. That’s the anabolic pathway of the person with Metabolic Syndrome: incoming energy going to the waist line. As they say about some foods, “do not eat, apply directly to hips”.

The chronic internal damage due to oxidative stress from both internal and external sources causes on-going inflammation as an equally chronic state. The typical adult over 40, who eats too much and exercises too little, has accumulated decades of this damage. All sorts of organs and tissues are inflamed, but not visible to the naked eye. Still, the signs are there: redness, swelling, pain, fever, and loss of function. The pain of an inflamed artery might not be that bad, until the loss of function of that artery becomes catastrophic. For many of these folks, they are on a path to degenerative diseases that will manifest themselves in full-blown form in their late 50s or early 60s. Then they will get to experience that two decades of slow degeneration at the hands of the health care industry that peddles acute interventions for what are really chronic conditions.

[Remember what I said earlier about following the money trail? In whose economic interest is it for you not to know this stuff?]

Exercise is good because it is anti-inflammatory & anabolic

Exercise is anti-inflammatory. Exercise is anabolic. Exercise pro-oxidation. First two things are good. Third thing is a problem. What to do?

Take your antioxidants of course. But honestly, there is a sweet spot here too. Recent evidence is indicating that some oxidative damage due to excess free radical production in exercise is a good thing. It is a component of the “training effect“. In other words, in order to get a benefit from exercise, we have to stress our bodies sufficiently to do some damage. Without the damage, there is no tear down and no rebuilding. As they say, “No Pain, No Gain”. We might now say, “No Stress, No Inflammation, No Catabolism, No Anabolism.” But that’s a really bad marketing slogan.

That sweet spot is going to be different for each individual. A week-end warrior is not going to have the same needs as an Olympic marathoner. And the Olympic marathoner may have different requirements throughout the training cycle. AO levels may be kept low during training in order to promote a training effect. On race day and during recovery, AO levels may be boosted significantly to help promote healing and avoid injury. Just like anything else in the life of a serious performance athlete, macro-nutrition, micro-nutrition and exercise will be part of a regimen designed to deliver optimal performance on game day. That strategy will have to be tailored for the nature of “game-day”. A one day performance in an endurance sport (Olympic marathon) is different than the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Neither is quite what a 60-year old male needs just in order to avoid the surgeon earning big bucks while exploring his insides. But the same principles apply.

Learn More

If you’re interested in information about how to get your micro-nutrition back on track, contact me.

I’m here to help.