Hazards of Breathing
Oxidative damage is a fact of life for humans. The name – oxidative – gives a clue as to why this is true. We use oxygen to make energy in our bodies. Oxidation is the by-product of basic metabolism. But what is oxidation?
Oxidation is a process that damages DNA. DNA is the instruction manual in nearly ever cell of the body. This DNA instruction manual tells cells what to do and when. To better understand why oxidation is a bad for DNA, think of rusting.
Rusting is oxidation in the environment. When metal rusts, it no longer functions as it should. This same process happens in the body. We don’t exactly rust, but we do experience the same type of oxidation damage.
This oxidation gums up the DNA instruction manual. A gummed up instruction manual causes problems. Without proper instructions, our cells don’t function properly.
A Delicate Balance
Some oxidation is normal. For example, our immune system uses oxidation as a way to kill invading viruses, bacteria, and parasites. But too much oxidation is a bad thing.
Keeping oxidative damage at the proper level requires a delicate balance. When the balance tips in the direction of too much oxidation, disease can result.
Oxidative damage is believed to contribute to the major diseases that plague us today. This includes heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, hypertension, arthritis, chronic pain, and more.
If you could get a test to tell you how much oxidative damage was happening inside your body, would you? Before you say “yes”, you may want to reconsider.
How Does Oxidative Damage Testing Work?
Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about a test for oxidative damage. It’s called urinary 8-hydroxy-2-deoxyguanosine test (going forward, I’ll refer to it as “Urinary 8-h-2-d”). It sounds pretty impressive, but what will it tell us?
As we know, DNA is subject to constant oxidative damage from many sources. This includes day-to-day living and breathing. Remember, this is simply a result of being an aerobic (oxygen-using) organism.
Our bodies continuously repair oxidized DNA. The by-products of this repair process include oxidized pieces of discarded DNA. These discarded, oxidized DNA fragments are excreted in the urine. One of them is 8-hydroxy-2′-deoxyguanosine.
So Urinary 8-h-2-d is a “non-specific” measure of oxidative DNA damage. It doesn’t tell us where in the body oxidation is occurring. It doesn’t tell us exactly why the oxidation is happening. It just tells us that oxidation is happening.
Am I Normal?
There is a problem with this type of oxidative damage testing. The ability to repair DNA under normal circumstances varies from person to person. Some people are “good DNA repairers.” Other people don’t repair damaged DNA as well.
In fact, the inability to repair DNA effectively and quickly may be one of the less-understood causes of cancer. It may be one reason why some people are more prone to cancer than others.
There are ranges for “normal” for Urinary 8-h-2-d. And nearly everyone will fall into this normal range under most circumstances. If you were tested and found out your Urinary 8-h-2-d levels fall at the high end of normal for oxidative damage, what would you do differently?
Oxidative Damage Testing May Damage Your Wallet
A single measurement of Urinary 8-h-2-d probably won’t tell you much. If I were advising a person with “higher” levels of oxidative damage on how to address the issue, it probably wouldn’t alter my advice much either.
My conversations on these test results might go something like this.
“You have more oxidative DNA damage than you should. To use nutrition to address this problem, be sure you eat a plant-based diet. Try to get at least 10 servings of vegetables and fruit per day. Be sure to include cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and kale. And don’t forget to eat plenty of dark red and purple berries. Avoid refined grains. You might want to take a vitamin D supplement, because many people are low in this nutrient. Drink green tea if you can, because it’s an antioxidant powerhouse. If you don’t eat fatty fish regularly, you might consider adding in a fish oil supplement…”
“Fortunately, your oxidative DNA damage is at a low level. To make sure you keep those levels as low as possible, be sure you eat a plant-based diet. Try to get at least 10 servings of vegetables and fruit per day. Be sure to include cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and kale. And don’t forget to eat plenty of dark red and purple berries. Avoid refined grains. You might want to take a vitamin D supplement, because many people are low in this nutrient. Drink green tea if you can, because it’s an antioxidant powerhouse. If you don’t eat fatty fish regularly, you might consider adding in a fish oil supplement…”
In the end, you’ve just spent a chunk of change getting a fancy test. And in the end, you’re going to be told something that we already know.
Everyone should be eating this way, regardless of his or her level of oxidative DNA damage!
If you have extra cash floating around (in this economy, not likely), the Urinary 8-h-2-d test might be for you. You could use the test as “proof” that your healthy diet is worth the effort.
If you struggle to eat well for lack of motivation, the test might be a useful motivator. You could get the test. Then focus on eating a stellar, squeaky clean, plant-based, “best diet ever”. Then retest. You can savor the improvements in your level of oxidation. But for most people, this test is an unnecessary expense.
Now you have your marching orders. Go forth and eat healthy, whole foods! Beyond this, there is one more thing to consider. Being overweight or obese significantly increases oxidative damage in the body.
Given that more than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, the money you’d spend on the Urinary 8-h-2-d test likely would be better spent on a new pair of sneakers.
Hazards of Breathing