Damage from free radicals
is at the heart of aging.
Everything and anything you do to reduce the damage from free radicals will give you the best chance to live your full life span with a minimum of disability.
Today we are at the threshold of a revolution in medicine, led by the great researcher Dr. Denham Harman. Essentially, Harman’s theory states that free radical reaction – a normal and unavoidable aspect of your metabolism – is the cause of the slow deterioration of your body over time. In other words, you age because free radicals damage your cells. Free radicals are especially likely to damage your mitochondria, the tiny energy-producing structures within your cells. The more damage to your mitochondria, the faster you age and the more likely you are to develop an age-related disease such as high blood pressure or cancer.
Understanding free radicals
Almost all living things, including plants, need oxygen to live. Every single cell in your body uses oxygen to create energy – without oxygen, the cell will die. In your cells, energy is produced by tiny structures called mitochondria. The process is quite complex, but what is important here is that free radicals are a necessary part of it. Most of the free radicals are contained within the process and are neutralized instantly, but even so, quite a few escape. When your body burns oxygen to create energy, the waste products are water and oxygen-based free radicals, also known as reactive oxygen species.
When a free radical escapes, it goes scurrying around in your body’s cells looking for another electron. It might grab the electron from the cell membrane, or perhaps from some other structure in the cell, such as the DNA contained in the nucleus. You might not think that the loss of a single electron could do much damage, especially when you know that your body has about sixty trillion cells in it. But every moment of every day, every one of these cells is producing millions of free radicals, and when a free radical grabs an electron from a nearby molecule, the process does not stop there. Not, only is the molecule damaged, but another free radical has now been created. A lot of damaged cells are left in your body. The cumulative damage over years causes the diseases of aging.
When free radicals attack, the damage can happen to any part of a cell. If the free radical attacks the fatty acids of the cell membrane, the cell can rupture. If free radicals attack the “bad” low-density cholesterol (LDL), it gets oxidized. The result is that the cholesterol turns much stickier – so sticky that it then attaches to rough spots on the walls of your arteries. When that happens, plaque begins to form and you are on the way to clogged arteries and develop a heart attack or stroke.
Any illness or infection creates a lot of extra free radicals, though, so the longer you are sick, the more free radicals you create and the more damage they can do
Many prescription drugs produce huge amounts of free radicals as they break down in your body or make your liver produce a lot of extra free radicals as it tries to metabolize the drugs. Even worse, many prescription and nonprescription drugs seriously deplete your antioxidant levels, depriving you of your natural defenses.
The foods you eat have a major effect on your production of free radicals. A big culprit here is polyunsaturated fat, especially when it is in the form of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil – the deadly trans fat.
Free radicals are generated by your liver as part of the normal detoxification process that removes waste products from your body.
Free radicals are also generated in your body when you’re exposed to normal background radiation and ultraviolet light from sunshine.
It is also important to remember that exercise produces a lot of free radicals. In fact, it’s not uncommon for highly conditioned athletes as marathon runners to get sick a lot with colds and infections. These people train so hard and produce so many free radicals that actually damage their own immune system.
Millions of years of evolution have made your body able to squelch most – though not all – of these radicals. What you’re not very good at, is dealing with all the pollutants that accompany life in the twenty-first century, including pesticides, herbicides, ozone, smog, cigarette smoke, soot, automobile exhaust, and an increasingly wide variety of industrial chemicals. Exposure to all these pollutants creates free radicals as your body tries to expel them.
Braking the Chains
To break the chains of free radicals damage and liberate yourself to achieve your maximum life span, you must:
- Consume a diet high in antioxidant primarily from fresh vegetables and low sugar fruits.
- Take supplements of antioxidant vita-nutrients as needed
- Avoid pollutants
- Exercises moderately.
Toxins and Aging
Exposure to toxins, is a major factor in aging. Why? Because toxins create free radicals – and as you certainly know by now, damage from free radicals is the underlying cause of most of the disease of aging, and of aging itself.