How CBD Can Combat Oxidative Stress
Increasingly, research has shown that cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) can play a major role in the body’s multidimensional biochemical balancing act known as homeostasis. One its most beneficial properties is the potential role in helping the body deal with oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
What Are Free Radicals?
Free radicals are chemical species with an unpaired electron. They play an important role in a number of biological processes and can form naturally in normal physiological conditions. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are free radicals formed as a natural byproduct of the normal metabolism of oxygen and have important roles in cell signaling and homeostasis.
During cellular respiration, mitochondria in cells break down molecules to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which cells can then use as energy, like batteries. The last step of cellular respiration involves oxidative phosphorylation which produces the bulk of the ATP. As its name implies, the process involves oxidation (the transfer of electrons from NADH and FADH2) and phosphorylation (adding phosphate groups). During the transfer of electrons, oxygen (O2) will normally accept 4 electrons and is reduced to water (H2O).
But this physiological process doesn’t always work perfectly and can sometimes cause free radicals to form.
For example, sometimes oxygen only receives 1 electron and becomes superoxide. When it only receives 2 electrons, it becomes hydrogen peroxide. And when it only receives 3 electrons, it becomes a hydroxyl radical. Superoxide, hydrogen peroxide, and hydroxyl radical are ROS that are commonly associated with cell damage. Radiation, inflammation, contact through metals, and some drugs and chemicals can generate free radicals in the body as well.
Oxidative Stress: When Free Radicals Wreak Havoc
Under normal conditions, the presence of ROS is not a problem. In fact, ROS play an important role in a number of biological processes. Researchers have also implicated free radicals in certain cell signaling processes, known as redox signaling. Redox signaling is a form of cellular communication within a living organism and is required for numerous cellular processes, as indicated by the role of ROS in proper cellular differentiation, tissue regeneration, and prevention of aging. ROS can also help the immune system fight invading pathogens and initiate tissue repair. Physical exercise is one strategy that can increase ROS resulting in activation of beneficial pathways that can help with cancer, diabetes, and aging.
But what makes free radicals actually damaging to our cells?
You see, because they’re molecules containing an unpaired electron, free radicals will steal that missing electron from nearby lipids in the cell membrane, or proteins and DNA inside the cell. Once an electron is stolen, it causes a chain reaction of stealing whereby the target will then steal an electron from its neighbor, who will then steal it from its neighbor and so on – resulting in significant damage to once-healthy cellular proteins, lipids, and DNA.
Under normal physiological conditions, the body can respond by producing antioxidants that inhibit the oxidation process and keep ROS in check and at optimum levels for homeostasis. Unfortunately, oxidative stress happens when there is an imbalance between the production of free radicals in the body and the body’s natural ability to detoxify them or to repair the resulting damage.
During times of oxidative stress, ROS levels can increase dramatically and result in significant damage to cellular proteins, lipids, and DNA. Elevated ROS levels and cellular damage are linked to many issues including cognitive dysfunction, age-related disorders, and cancer. If excessive or unresolved, oxidative stress can initiate further increasing levels of oxidative stress that cause organ damage and dysfunction.
CBD As A Potential Therapy
Therapeutically targeting oxidative stress has been difficult, to say the least.
Up until a few years ago, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) promoted an antioxidant-rich diet by publishing the USDA Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) Database for Selected Foods. The publication was based on the theory that these foods could play a role in preventing or ameliorating various chronic diseases such as cancer, coronary vascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes by neutralizing the damaging effects of free radicals.
However, in 2012 the USDA’s Nutrient Data Laboratory (NDL) removed the database from their website due to mounting evidence that the values indicating antioxidant capacity had no relevance to the effects of specific bioactive compounds on human health. Although beneficial, they concluded that the functions of antioxidant molecules in foods were unrelated to their ability to absorb free radicals.
So given the complexities of these diseases, how do we combat oxidative stress?
Thankfully, growing evidence suggests that cannabinoids – specifically CBD – and the endocannabinoid system, may be an area that is ripe for therapeutic exploitation.
For example, recent studies have suggested that CBD may have utility in treating a number of human diseases and disorders now known to involve activation of the immune system and associated oxidative stress.
In the September 2011 issue of Free Radical Biology and Medicine, author George W. Booz published a review to discuss the studies on CBD as an emergent therapeutic strategy. He found that CBD was effective in treating a number of diseases exacerbated by oxidative stress, including rheumatoid arthritis, types I and II diabetes, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, hypertension, the metabolic syndrome, ischemia-reperfusion injury, depression, and neuropathic pain.
Because inflammation and oxidative stress are intimately involved in the genesis of many human diseases, and because inflammation and oxidative stress “feed off” each other, he concluded that, “CBD would seem to be a promising starting point for further drug development given its antioxidant… and anti-inflammatory actions on immune cells…
The therapeutic utility of CBD is a relatively new area of investigation that portends new discoveries on the interplay between inflammation and oxidative stress, a relationship that underlies tissue and organ damage in many human diseases.”