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What is the common link between heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer? The answer lies in the fact that science has demonstrated that high levels of oxidative stress can cause a broad spectrum of health problems by causing cellular damage to a wide range of tissues. Further, there is some scientific evidence indicating that antioxidants may enhance health by reducing the level of oxidative stress. However, the use of antioxidants to prevent human disease remains controversial.

It is this topic that brought 200 of Canada’s leading scientists to the 6th meeting of the Canadian Oxidative Stress Consortium, which was hosted by the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences at the St. Boniface Hospital Research between May 7-10. “This consortium is unique in Canada, as it specifically focuses discussion on how oxidative stress contributes to a broad range of diseases”, says conference organizer Dr. Pawan Singal. “The aim was to bring together Canada’s leading researchers from the vast field of oxidative stress with the intention to exchange novel ideas and to identify how we can work together to develop novel strategies to enhance the health of Canadians”.

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Three keynote lectures were presented during the meeting. Dr. Barry Halliwell (National University of Singapore), who is one of the most influential oxidative stress researchers in the world, presented a lecture discussing how iron and zinc can influence oxidative stress and contribute to atherosclerosis and neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. Ioav Cabantchik (Hebrew University of Israel), a clinical research scientist with over 200 scientific publications, discussed his contributions to the development of a novel drug that can reduce oxidative stress caused by iron overload or misdistribution. Dr. Peter Liu (University of Toronto), the Director of the Canadian Institutes for Health Research Institute of Circulatory and Respiratory Health, presented a lecture discussing his cutting edge research examining how oxidative stress influences the human genome and how new technologies can be employed to identify how oxidative stress causes disease.

Other scientific sessions discussed the value in using natural food products for the prevention or treatment of many different diseases. It is this area of research that St. Boniface Hospital Research has specific expertise, as this facility conducts basic biomedical as well as clinical research. It is home to the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences, the Division of Neurodegenerative Disorders and the Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine (CCARM).

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“Eating is one way of reducing stress, and it is likely that certain food components assist with this process”, says Dr. Peter Zahradka, CCARM Team Leader. “This meeting provided a forum for examining possible ways to employ functional food ingredients to interfere with processes that trigger oxidative stress. This approach may be extremely versatile in the treatment of stress-related disorders that are linked with inflammation”.

Dr. Todd Duhamel, who is a faculty member at the University of Manitoba and a participant in the conference, indicated that “the meeting was a great success”. Based on the scientific evidence presented at this meeting, “it appears as though a healthy diet and a physically active lifestyle are the best weapons to reduce your risk of developing one of the chronic diseases associated with high levels of oxidative stress”, says Dr. Singal.

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