Latest developments in causes and treatments



Exploring the Relationship Between Oxidative Stress and Obesity

Oxidative stress is an imbalance in oxygen-reactive species that leads to cell and tissue damage. According to a study in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, “A large body of [evidence] shows that oxidative stress can be responsible, with different degrees of importance, in the onset and/or progression of several diseases (i.e., cancer, diabetes, metabolic disorders, atherosclerosis, and cardiovascular diseases).”

“Oxidative stress emerges when an imbalance exists between free radical formation and the capability of cells to clear them,” the authors explain. Oxidative stress has been linked to neurological diseases as well, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, ALS, MS, depression, and memory loss. The authors conclude:

If not strictly controlled, oxidative stress can be responsible for the induction of several diseases, both chronic and degenerative, as well as speeding up body aging process and cause acute pathologies (i.e., trauma and stroke).

Fast forward three years, to April 2020, and the scientific journal, Behavioural Brain Research, publishes an extensive review of the literature on obesity and oxidative stress, examining 506 studies including meta studies. The author, Tobore Onojighofia Tobore, claims the literature comes down strongly on the side of the correlation between obesity and oxidative stress:

Oxidative stress plays a critical role in food addiction and is both a cause and mediator of obesity… The idea of thinking of combating obesity from the lens of calorie count, low carbohydrate, high or low-fat, vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, or animal-based diet is fundamentally wrong.

Tobore defines “food addiction” — which might more properly be termed “eating addiction” — as “overeating induced by sights, sounds, and smells connected with palatable food.” Tobore states that overeating is caused by food cues. A trial at UCLA is just now recruiting to study the use of a self-directed behavior modification app in reducing sensitivity to food cues for the purpose of losing weight.

“Substantial levels” of oxidative stress are seen in patients displaying Type 2 diabetes, according to an article in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery. The article does not point to any known remedies for oxidative stress, only trials:

Extracts from tea, cocoa and many dietary vegetables and fruits including broccoli, broccoli sprouts, grape seeds and turmeric can activate NRF2 signalling and induce antioxidant enzymes, and some of these are in clinical trials for disease treatment and/or prevention.

Even as oxidative stress is pointed to in diabetes and obesity, and “the development of effective antioxidant therapies is an important goal,” the studies so far have been disappointing. The authors cite several ongoing clinical trials and state, “We expect that all these approaches will contribute to advancing antioxidant therapeutics.”

Written by Steve O’Keefe. First published February 5, 2024.


“Oxidative Stress: Harms and Benefits for Human Health,” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, July 2017.

“Towards a comprehensive theory of obesity and a healthy diet: The causal role of oxidative stress in food addiction and obesity,” Behavioural Brain Research, April 2020.

“Targeting oxidative stress in disease: promise and limitations of antioxidant therapy,” Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, June 2021.

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