The Problem with Processed Foods 2 - Oxidative Stress

June 28, 2021

Metabolic Problem of Processed Foods #2 Oxidative Stress

What is oxidative stress? You hear that word all the time. Do you know what it means? Lustig thinks it is so important, he calls it problem #2, hence this column. Short of reading his book, Metabolical, here is the quickie synopsis. It's oxygen molecule picking up an extra electron, making oxygen carry a negative charge. That's a hot potato you have to cool off. It is terribly damaging. That's oxidative stress.

Oxygen radicals are a standard outcome of three normal reactions in the body: glycation; energy metabolism in our mitochondria; and iron metabolism (sort of like rusting, which happens anytime you have iron in cells). Or from anything that causes inflammation, which, when properly harnessed kills invading cells instead of you. Oxygen is everywhere, dissolved in your blood and cellular water, so any of those processes find oxygen around if you tip over the edge and make that free electron available.

Alright, you are a pretty careful person who exercises regularly and are very careful about what you eat, but once in a while you indulge in a pizza or have a drive-through moment and get a hamburger: fast food. There is no fiber in fast food. The bun is digested instantly because it's pure white flour and the huge order of french fries are piping hot and delicious with your favorite ketchup. The 600 calories in the fructose-laden soda don't help. Without realizing it, you have taken in 1800 calories with no slowing down the digestion by fiber. Your blood glucose rises rapidly and you jam those calories into your mitochondria. Your mitochondria depend on electrons moving "downhill", meaning there is an absence of electrons down the electron transport chain and CoQ10 is just waiting to pass those electrons on to Cytochrome C. What happens if you are sitting on the couch, not burning any energy, yet having just eaten that burger, soda and fries? (Did I forget to mention the small chocolate shake?). Your electron transport chain is chock full of electrons. You are fully loaded with ATP. Your electron transport chain is full.

An analogy, if I may. It's like a flooded gasoline engine. Your gasoline tank if full and you pull up to the gas station and start the pump. Your tank overflows. Your engine chokes. Your NAD+/NADPH saturates and backs up. NAPDH should be much less than NAD+ but their ratio starts changing. You gotta get rid of that extra electron on NADPH. Your body, like your gasoline engine, runs best when you burn the fuel cleanly and don't flood the engine. Your electrons want a down hill gradient to flow into.

You do get rid of those hot electrons. That's where NOX enzymes sweep in, grab the excess NADPH and its extra electron and pop it onto the closest available oxygen outside the cells. Whew, just in time. That saves the electron transport chain so it's not completely plugged up and jammed. But it also makes the next hot potato, peroxide. The enzyme superoxide dismutase is meant to grab that oxygen with an extra electron in it and turn it into peroxide. That hot potato will damage everything in sight. Peroxide is like a stalker, hunting for a place to park its extra electron. At least you got rid of it outside the cell of origin, but now it's hunting for another place to dump those extra electrons. If it oxidizes a lipid molecule on the surface of your cell (the next cell down the road), that is a potent marker of cellular decline and your immune system will see that lipid damage as a signal that the cell is unhealthy and can't maintain itself properly. Time to kill it off and process that cell into the recycling bin. (Just google immune activate by lipid peroxidation.). Can't let that happen. You can only afford to oxidize so many cells. Too many oxidized cells is otherwise known as "The Biochemistry of Death." That's it. The Grim Reaper gets you.

Your cells have ways of protecting themselves too. Each cell has peroxisomes in them that make plasmalogens and catalase. And you have glutathione. Ah, our old friend, plasmalogens. Plasmalogens are incredibly valuable. They are the ONLY lipid in your cellular membranes with a precious vinal ether bond in the cis-configuration that is right on the surface of the cell, outside the cell. Guess what it soaks up and stops cold! You got it. The peroxide. Presto. The hot potato is stopped cold. But you have to make a whole new plasmalogen molecule to replace the burned-out one. But at least you stopped the hot potato, the oxidative stress. Catalase also enzymatically processes peroxide. The two together are your line of defense. And we could write paragraphs on glutathione too.

Did you get all that? Oxidative stress starts with processed food that delivers nutrients at too high a rate to your mitochondria, overwhelming them. You didn't need those calories that fast. You tip the balance so far, so fast that you force your mitochondria to make too much NADPH that has no place to go, no place to hide. And before you know it, you have to kick an electron out of the mitochondria, and then out of the cell, hoping someone else can deal with it. Someone else can, if they have sufficient plasmalogens in their membranes and catalase in their peroxisomes to gobble up the peroxide. But what happens if you keep eating fast food every day? Bit by bit you wear your plasmalogen pool down. The oxidative stress adds up. That is aging in a nutshell. Forcing oxidation to happen more, forces you to age faster.

And just what happened to the only known experiment of daily fast food? (The Movie: Super Size Me about eating at McDonald's every meal for a month.). He was developing liver failure in just one month. No joking. Just one month. If you get liver failure in one short month by regular fast food, why are you subjecting yourself to that risk once a month? You are using up your metabolic reserves. I know, I know. They brought such a huge pile of fries, you can't stand throwing them out so you finished them off. Oxidative stress. Right there. Bummer.

Now, open your eyes at the grocery store. How many items do you see made from ground-up grains, with multiple added sugars, refined oils and just too many calories all at once?

www.What will Work for me. Don't get me wrong, I love french fries. I've done a couple of experiments with them. In one, I had ketones of 4.1 in my blood on day 6 of my monthly 5 day fast mimicking diet. I had been on 800 calories for 5 days. I was proud of myself. I was out doing errands on Saturday and my car swerved into the drive-through of the local merchant-of-death hamburger joint. I was obliged to order something. In a brief lapse into sanity, I only order a small fries, and only eat four of them. I race home and 20 minutes later, my ketones were 0.0. Twenty minutes. Four fries. That is the definition of processed fast food. The nutritious Peruvian Potato that comes in some 4,000 varies, filled with fiber and antioxidants, has been converted into a massive, Idaho potato with 10 times the carbohydrate and none of the phytonutrients. Chop that up and deliver that to customers and we can eat calories at a rate far faster than we can burn. That's oxidation for you. Brought about by the whole system that uses genetic engineering to grow zombie foods containing no fiber and unbalanced quantities of carbohydrates. The factory that peels and cuts the fries, the restaurant that fries them and gives them to me piping hot with luscious salt on them. Who could resist?

References: Metabolical by Lustig, Gut, Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, PNAS, Investigative Ophthalmology, Int Jr of Molecular Sci, Supersize Me,

Pop Quiz

1.What is oxidation? Answer: in the general world, it's called rusting with iron. In your cells, it is the production of free oxygen radicals with an extra electron on them. That is a very bioactive compound that breaks chemical bonds, most dangerously on your membrane lipids that signals your immune system to attack.

2. Your cells can protect Answer: Internally with enough glutathione and superoxide dismutase, and then with catalase and plasmalogens in their membranes.

3. What do plasmalogens do to hydrogen peroxide? Answer: Boom shak-a-laka. They stop it cold. Done. Fixed. But you use up the plasmalogen molecule and you have to make a whole new one.

4. What happens to my ability to fight oxidation over time? Answer: As we age, we appear to gradually degrade our plasmalogen supply. If only we slowed down our eating of high-calorie foods. "No french fries over age 65". Just try!

5. Can we repair this deficit? Answer: Yes, we are just learning how and our application may be imperfect and open to refinement, but the ability to replace and rebuild plasmalogen supply, glutathione supply, NAD supply......choline, homocysteine. We are learning how valuable selenium is in its relationship to glutathione. On and on. We are lucky to be alive in an era of so much innovation. But don't get starry eyed about miracles. First focus on the basics. Make a downhill flow of electrons possible. Empty out your tank by burning your ATP. That's called exercise. And empty out your glycogen store. That's called intermittent fasting. See, it all comes together.