Antioxidants and Aging; Free-Radical Theory
Posted By: Dr. Gary Bellman on January 14, 2014
Life is the result of a delicate balancing of tradeoffs-- We must burn oxygen to produce the energy needed by our cells to maintain their highly ordered functions and we do this very efficiently, much more so than even the most highly advanced engine, producing only the harmless carbon dioxide and water. Yet the tradeoff for this magnificently efficient process is the production of unstable oxygen molecules that leak out of our mitochondria during the burning process instead of being converted into water and carbon dioxide. These are called free radicals. They consist of an oxygen molecule with an unpaired electron that makes it highly reactive and thus capable of attacking and damaging our other bio-molecules such as DNA, proteins, cholesterol, and the components of our cell membranes.
This damage can result in aberrantly growing, cancerous cells (when DNA is damaged), aging skin (when collagen and elastin are damaged), and cardiovascular disease (when the cells lining our arteries are damaged by oxidized cholesterol). Fifty years ago, Denham Harman conceptualized this process as the Free Radical Theory of Aging.
In a sense, the generation of a free radical is starting point of the aging process. When a cell in the hypothalamus gets damaged, then it no longer sends an appropriate signal to the pituitary gland to release growth hormone, or luteinizing hormone (which in turn leads to lower testosterone levels). Likewise, a damaged cell in the testicles cannot respond as well to the LH signal, which in turn also contributes to the age related decline in testosterone levels. This occurs in many of our important signaling tissues and together creates the changes of aging. Also, this process causes the aging process in non-signaling tissues as well. For example, cataracts are the result of free radical damage to the molecules in the lens of the eye; and collagen and elastin in the skin are damaged by free radicals generated by sun damage.
The process of evolution, however, has equipped us with molecules to neutralize these free radicals before they can do damage. These molecules go by the familiar term, 'antioxidants.' Some are enzymes such as superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT), others are smaller molecules like vitamin E, vitamin C, coenzyme Q10, and alpha lipoic acid.
Your levels of these antioxidants determine the degree to which the free radicals can damage your cells. Maintaining good levels of antioxidants has been shown in many studies to decrease the incidence and severity of the diseases of aging. Some of the most popular antioxidants are through the form of supplements which include: vitamin c and vitamin e, garlic, omega 3, selenium, glutathione, lycopene.
Before starting any dietary supplement, it is best to discuss with your physician the pros and cons of starting a daily regimen; as some may do more harm then good.
A new study out of Newcastle University revealed the antioxidant Tiron could be what we need to keep our skin looking younger, even into old age. The university compared Tiron’s effect on UVA radiation exposure and free radical stress against other antioxidants, including resveratrol found in red wine, turmeric found in curry, lycopene found in tomatoes, antioxidants found in green tea, and cosmetic creams. The research team focused on each antioxidant’s effect on mitochondria, also known as the batteries of skin cells.
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