Oxidative Stress and the Role of Antioxidants, Ozone Therapy, and CBD

Author: Whit Sheppard

What is oxidative stress?

Our ability to produce oxidants like reactive oxidant species (ROS), more commonly known as free radicals, is a core function of our immune system.   The immune system uses ROS production as a key weapon for fighting invading pathogens and initiating tissue repair.  When there are more pro-oxidants than antioxidants, however, you end up with a redox imbalance and may be under threat of oxidative stress.

I like to think of ROS as tiny pellets from a shotgun shell; these ROS pellets are released from white blood cells when your immune system recognizes an infection.  When there is a foreign microbe in your blood, if your immune system is healthy, it should recognize the microbe as hostile and direct white blood cells like neutrophils to the site of the injury or infection.

These neutrophils, phagocytes and other white blood cells then produce ROS that destroy the microbial infection (5).  The ROS accomplish this by penetrating the microbes’ cell walls, spilling out the contents, effectively destroying the microbe or infection.  Shortly thereafter the white blood cells clean up the remaining parts of the dead microbe which are then eliminated from the body.  This is a very basic understanding of how your immune system uses reactive oxygen species to destroy bacteria, viruses, and other infections.

saloonNow that we know how our immune system uses pro-oxidants to help protect our bodies from foreign invaders, we will take a closer look at how our cells protect themselves against the collateral damage of oxidative stress.  The shotgun/pellet analogy is very appropriate for reactive oxygen species because it further illustrates how this can be interpreted as a hostile environment similar to an old Wild West shootout.  You could think of the damage inflicted upon our cells by free radicals as collateral damage from the ROS assault on the invading microbe.

Think of a group of bystanders in the late 1800s, as a sheriff shoots towards some fleeing bandits into a crowd. The nearby bystanders might be inadvertently wounded by a barrage of shotgun pellets being fired towards the bandits. The collateral damage received by the innocent bystanders is similar to how our cells inadvertently receive damage from ROS. The sheriff might have captured the bandit, like our cells kill microbes, but he might have wounded a few innocent people in the process. The shotgun, like reactive oxygen species, is not the most accurate weapon but it packs a punch and is very effective.

How do our healthy cells protect themselves from ROS?

Carrying that same analogy forward in regards to how the ROS targets indiscriminately, this brings up the inevitable question:  how do cells protect themselves from this and avoid oxidative stress?

In a healthy cell wall you find three important enzymes:  catalase, superoxide dismutase (SOD), and glutathione peroxidase (GPx). These enzymes effectively form a protective barrier against reactive oxygen species.  A basic understanding of this process is that SOD speeds up the conversion of free radicals like superoxide into hydrogen peroxide and then back to water, which disables the ROS in the process (7).  These enzymes work in tandem to help prevent damage to healthy cells from free radicals, much like someone who is wearing a jacket and helmet will be better protected from being shot than someone who wasn’t wearing one at all.

oxidative stress diagramYou can think of these three enzymes as a thick leather jacket that surrounds healthy cell walls, forming a barrier which prevents the small pellet-like ROS from penetrating the cell wall. These enzymes do a great job protecting healthy cells, but constant bombardment of free radicals can eventually wear down our natural defenses.  Unfortunately, some people might not produce enough of these protective enzymes because of a nutritional deficiency or genetic predisposition like acatalasemia, and this will make them much more susceptible to oxidative stress. Even healthy cells can start to wear down after prolonged ROS exposure.

Can ozone therapy cause oxidative stress?

Ozone therapy is a way to supplement your body’s endogenous ROS production, to assist in killing harmful diseases (in addition to many other benefits).  Bio-oxidative therapies like ozone can contribute to oxidative stress if antioxidant levels are low.  As we’ve mentioned, most healthy cells protect themselves from OS by producing enzymes like catalase, superoxide dismutase, and glutathione peroxidase (7).  However, if you already have a compromised immune system, your cells might be lacking in their ability to produce these protective enzymes.  This is just one more reason to eat a healthy diet, so your body can absorb all the nutrients it needs to function properly.

Oxidative stress is the result of a redox imbalance, which basically means there are too many pro-oxidants and not enough antioxidants.  In very excessive cases, if left unresolved, immune-related oxidative stress can initiate higher levels of OS that can eventually spiral out of control and cause tissue and organ damage (9).  That is why it is important to recognize the warning signs so you can take the appropriate steps to address it.

Some warning signs of oxidative stress include fatigue, memory loss or brain fog, muscle and joint pain, wrinkles, gray hair, decreased eye sight, headaches, sensitivity to noise, and being prone to infection.  If you have some of these symptoms it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are under dangerous amounts of OS, it might just be normal signs of aging.  However, by taking the appropriate steps, you can significantly lessen the impact of oxidative stress on your body.

free radicals

I am in no way saying that ozone therapy alone will cause the symptoms of oxidative stress.  In fact there are many researchers who theorize that low-doses of ozone can actually increase the endogenous enzymes that protect the cell walls by stimulating a natural response by the body (11).  I feel there is a lot of conflicting information on this topic, so I am simply trying to show that there are varying degrees of oxidative stress, and that it is important to maintain a healthy balance. I feel this concept of homeostasis between your pro-oxidants and antioxidants is vitally important as they each serve a critical purpose.  Balance is the key.

We previously explored how the top three protective enzymes can act like a thick leather jacket around the cell. We will now examine how increasing antioxidant levels can be an added layer of protection.  This would be comparable to wearing a bulletproof vest over your leather jacket which gives even more protection from oxidative stress, especially for people doing ozone therapy.

Even if your body naturally produces a lot of these enzymes, it would still be in your best interest to try to offer some kind of additional protection so your immune system can function optimally.  By introducing antioxidant supplementation in conjunction with ozone therapy, this will help protect healthy cells from too much oxidative stress.  We want ozone and its ROS progeny to do their true job:  destroy foreign pathogens and diseases.  So while doing any kind of oxidative therapy, you might want to consider supplementing with an antioxidant to help protect healthy cells from collateral damage.

What kind of antioxidants should I take to help reduce oxidative stress?

One of the best ways to help protect against oxidative stress is to eat foods with high levels of antioxidants. These include goji berries, turmeric, red grapes, broccoli, dark chocolate, green tea, blueberries and many others.  Juicing these foods is a great way to absorb these important nutrients to help our bodies function properly, but it can also remove fiber, so make sure you’re getting enough of everything you need.  It’s important to note that you are going to absorb more nutrients by eating a good diet versus taking supplements to make up for a bad one.

Since we are on the subject of antioxidant supplements, we should address the fact that antioxidants taken in supplement form have generally been shown to be ineffective and actually harmful in some cases, and high doses can disrupt the redox balance and affect endogenous antioxidant production (10).

Many of these supplements can also have some serious side effects if you don’t do the proper research.  Glutathione, for instance, is a very popular antioxidant supplement and for good reason; it can be very effective.  However, if you have been exposed to mercury poisoning and take glutathione IV infusions it can actually move the mercury around, eventually settling it in the brain, nervous system, and the adrenal glands, which can cause some serious problems for your body (6).

Chelating heavy metals is something that needs to be fully understood before doing any kind of antioxidant supplement IV infusions, especially if you suspect heavy metal poisoning. Tests are available to determine if you do in fact have high levels of metals in your body, so talk to your  doctor about this if you have any suspicion of heavy metal poisoning.  This is important information to have before trying chelation or infusions, and I cannot stress that enough.

It needs to be noted that I am not saying all antioxidant supplements are bad or ineffective; it’s just that the quality control in the dietary supplement industry can vary dramatically from product to product.  Some supplements are great for antioxidant support, like Selenium, which is important for building endogenous glutathione peroxidase (not to be confused with the supplemental form of glutathione).  If you are going to go that route for antioxidant support, I would suggest doing your research and get a quality brand name product.

For more information regarding this specific topic, I would highly recommend reading this article at thepowerofozone.com, which covers this topic much more in depth (and many other important topics regarding ozone therapy).

Based on what’s currently available in regards to supplemental antioxidants, I feel CBD would be a much better option for protecting your body from oxidative stress.  CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is a naturally occurring compound found in the cannabis sativa plant, but is not psychoactive like THC.  CBD is a powerful antioxidant that also has neuroprotective properties in addition to many other benefits.  This means it may help combat oxidative stress and has actually been shown to be up to 30-50% more effective than vitamins C and E (1).

CBD exhibits strong anti-inflammatory properties and is excellent at protecting the network of neurons responsible for sending signals throughout the nervous system, ensuring optimal synaptic signaling.  Because CBD is non-toxic, it can be much safer than other antioxidant supplements.  In addition to the previously discussed benefits, because oxidative stress and inflammation typically “feed off” each other (2), CBD effectively addresses both problems by providing relief from both symptoms.  CBD can help guard against cellular damage and inflammation, and will in turn promote general physiological wellness.

Are there any other reasons I should use CBD?

CBD is very unique because of its ability to stimulate the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is a group of endogenous cannabinoid receptors located in the mammalian brain as well as the central and peripheral nervous systems.  The ECS is also responsible for our general physiology, and helps regulate many crucial systems in our body including memory, appetite, energy balance and metabolism, the stress response, the immune system, thermoregulation, sleep, and responses to pain.

You may also have heard of some of its more notable applications, like a recently published study which shows evidence that CBD may help slow down the effects of neurological degenerative diseases like Huntington’s and Parkinson’s Diseases (4).  Another interesting use of CBD is that it can help limit neurological damage following concussions and ischemic insults from brain trauma and strokes.  This is why some NFL players, MMA fighters, and many others are looking into CBD therapy to help prevent injury from the intense trauma that they endure in high contact sports. There is also evidence that CBD will help slow down or lessen the effect of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases (8).

This endocannabinoid system is a somewhat recent discovery made in 1990, and there have been a flood of studies since then which have provided a wealth of information on CBD’s role in the endocannabinoid system.  Because this is a relatively new finding, much more information needs to be gathered, but we are starting to have a broader idea of why there are so many medical applications for CBD.  Who knows what the future has in store for applications of CBD? I would think it will definitely be used to help with some of the diseases previously mentioned, and many more that weren’t, but I suspect you will see it used as a preventative medicine in conjunction with diet and exercise to help optimize general physiology.

Final thoughts

Many claim that antioxidants are dangerous and can inflame diseases like cancer, and a lot of antioxidants on the market either do very little or nothing at all.  There are many who feel oxidative therapies are the key to staying young, and that our bodies don’t need any supplemental antioxidants.

A 2008 study that used hyperbaric oxygen and juglone, a substance that releases ROS and is derived from walnuts, suggests that oxidative therapies can potentially increase lifespan, perhaps through the induction of antioxidant enzymes (3).  Their study is interesting because it showed that when our bodies are exposed to low level stressors like ROS, this can induce a form of hormesis.

On the opposite end of the argument, there are advocates who say antioxidants are the key to maintaining a young and healthy complexion, and that reactive oxygen species are a primary reason we age.  That is why antioxidants like resveratrol (produced from the skin of grapes) are so popular, because of its ability to reduce signs of aging.

Each side has peer-reviewed scientific studies to back up some or all of their claims.  However, I feel the truth of the matter lies somewhere in the middle.  A moderate approach is usually a healthier one, and being too extreme on either side can have serious disadvantages.  That is why I am advocating for including some of the foods mentioned above as a first line of defense.  To supplement that defense, CBD could be used to aid in maintaining the homeostasis between pro-oxidants and antioxidants.  CBD and ozone therapy are both tools that can help optimize critical systems of the body, and also help maintain a healthy redox balance.


1.       Hampson, A. J. et al. “Cannabidiol and (−)Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol Are Neuroprotective Antioxidants.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 95.14 (1998): 8268–8273. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC20965/

2.       Booz, George W. “Cannabidiol as an Emergent Therapeutic Strategy for Lessening the Impact of Inflammation on Oxidative Stress.” Free radical biology & medicine 51.5 (2011): 1054–1061. PMC. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3085542/

3.       David Gems, Linda Partridge, Stress-Response Hormesis and Aging: “That which Does Not Kill Us Makes Us Stronger”, Cell Metabolism, Volume 7, Issue 3, 5 March 2008, Pages 200-203, ISSN 1550-4131, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18316025

4.       Fernández-Ruiz, Javier et al. “Cannabidiol for Neurodegenerative Disorders: Important New Clinical Applications for This Phytocannabinoid?” British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 75.2 (2013): 323–333. PMC. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3579248/

5.       Segal, Anthony W. “How Neutrophils Kill Microbes.” Annual review of immunology 23 (2005): 197–223. PMC. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2092448/

6.       Rooney JPK. The role of thiols, dithiols, nutritional factors and interacting ligands in the toxicology of mercury. Toxicology. 2007; 234(3):145–156. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17408840

7.       FINKEL, T. “Oxidants, oxidative stress and the biology of ageing.” Nature 408 (2000): 239-247.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11089981

8.       Aidan J. Hampson, Julius Axelrod, Maurizio Grimaldi, “Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants” United States Patent:  US 6630507 B1. Oct. 2003.  https://www.google.com/patents/US6630507

9.       Fibach, E. and Rachmilewitz, E. “The role of oxidative stress in hemolytic anemia.”  Current Molecular Medicine, 8(7):  609-19.  Nov 2008.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18991647

10.   Bouayed, Jaouad, and Torsten Bohn. “Exogenous antioxidants—Double-Edged Swords in Cellular Redox State: Health Beneficial Effects at Physiologic Doses versus Deleterious Effects at High Doses.” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity 3.4 (2010): 228–237. PMC. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2952083/

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