Oxygen Paradox: A Matter of Life and Death

We all know oxygen is a necessity of life, right?

But, do you know oxygen is also a major contributor to most disease?

rusty old car
Imagine your insides looking like this!

Oxidation is all around: rusting metal; burning wood; browning apple slices; and fading colors. That same chemical process also occurs in the human body, damaging cells, tissues, and vital organs.

Aging and eventual death are facts of life. Yet, we have more control over how that happens, when it happens, and how long it takes than we might think, thanks to relatively recent scientific discoveries and amazing tools now available.

A large part of preserving human health is addressing the natural process of oxidation and doing what we can to limit the damage it does to our cells.


To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Oxidation occurs when a molecule loses an electron, a negatively charged ion. Losing an negatively-charged ion means the chemical charge of the molecule increases.

Because all matter must go somewhere in one form or another, the electron lost by one molecule is often added to another, disrupting its stability.

This is called reduction, the process of gaining an electron. The addition of a negatively-charged ion reduces its overall chemical charge.

“This oxidative stress is the underlying cause of almost all of these chronic, degenerative diseases.” – Dr. Ray Strand

The chemical reaction of Reduction-Oxidation is nicknamed cellular redox. Redox is simply the process of electrons moving between molecules, increasing or decreasing each molecule’s chemical charge and stability.

Free Radicals

While cellular redox might seem complicated, it is necessary for life.

For health, our goal isn’t to stop cellular oxidation but to control it to the point where the damage to our cells, tissues, and organs is minimized. The human body is designed to do just that, as if keeping a campfire under control.

cross-section image of blocked artery
Step 1 of this disease process is oxidation of cells and tissues.

For this purpose, the body has specialized¬† proteins called enzymes which allow ‘oxidative fires’ to burn but more slowly and at lower temperatures. This process is called respiration.

In a perfect world, each molecule has an even number of electrons in its outer orbit. Molecules with an odd number of electrons – an unpaired electron – become highly unstable and potentially dangerous. These molecules are called free radicals.

Approximately 2-5% of electrons escape during the respiration process and then combine with free-floating oxygen molecules. These are called oxygen free radical species, which are highly unstable and cause oxidative stress to human tissues, such as the interior lining of blood vessels, a major factor in heart disease.

“This oxidative stress is the underlying cause of almost all of these chronic, degenerative diseases,” wrote Dr. Ray Strand in his book,¬†What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know About Nutrition.


What would be the best antidote to damaging oxidation in the human body?


Antioxidants are natural substances which combat oxidation, many of which work together to enhance their effect against free radical damage.

berries on a plate
Fresh berries contain exogenous antioxidants.

There are two types of antioxidants for human health: endogenous, which the human body makes; and exogenous, which we must obtain from certain foods and/or high-quality nutritional supplements.

Vitamins A, C, and E and minerals iron, zinc, selenium, and manganese are a few exogenous antioxidants.

Endogenous antioxidants have fancier names and are a hundred time more powerful in battling harmful oxidized free radicals. Glutathione peroxidase, catalase, and superoxide dismutase (SOD), melatonin, and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) are a few of the good guys working hard constantly to keep us healthy.

Oxygen is required to live. Antioxidants aren’t against oxygen, but oxidation. And they are safe, natural, and powerful tools to aid our efforts toward optimal health.


Kate Bochte has a B.S. in Health Education and an M.S. in Physical Education/Exercise Physiology. She has taught public school Health Science and has worked as a weight loss counselor, American Cancer Society nutrition coordinator, and spokesperson for a global child protection organization. Kate is an independent partner of USANA Health Sciences, Inc.

Photo credits: Hot air balloon, Sebastien Gabriel; berries, Celia Par; both from stocksnap.io