Antioxidants and Aging
First let's consider free radicals. They consist of an oxygen molecule with an unpaired electron that makes it highly reactive and thus capable of attacking and damaging DNA, proteins, cholesterol, and the components of our cell membranes. This damage can result in cancer cells (when DNA is damaged), thin, aging skin (when collagen and elastin are damaged), and cardiovascular disease (when the cells lining our arteries are damaged by oxidized cholesterol). This Free Radical Theory of Aging was first put forward by Denham Harman.
The generation of a free radical without a means of neutralizing it is the starting point of the aging process. When a cell in the hypothalamus
is 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 luteinizing hormone signal, which in turn also contributes to the age related decline in testosterone levels.
Likewise, damage to the adrenal system results in reduced production of many
hormones including DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone). This occurs in many
other important signaling tissues and together creates the changes of aging.
Another example would be cataracts which are 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
radiation damage from the sun .
Maintaining and balancing levels of antioxidants has been shown in many studies to decrease the incidence and severity of the diseases of aging.
Secondly, let's us consider Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). Your body, which derives its energy from the burning of food (fuel) with oxygen, is susceptible to the damaging actions of the small amounts of O 2- (superoxide anion radical), OH (hydroxyl radical) and H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide) that inevitably form during the metabolism of oxygen, especially in the reduction of oxygen by the electron transfer system of mitochondria (part of a cell). These three species, together with unstable intermediates in the peroxidation of lipids, are referred to as Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS).
Many diseases (Alzheimer Disease, Myocardial Infarction, Atherosclerosis, Parkinson Disease, Autoimmune Diseases, Radiation Injury, Emphysema, & Sunburn ) are linked to damage from ROS as a result of an imbalance between radical-generating and radical-scavenging systems - a condition called oxidative stress. (Regular exercise causes adaptation of the antioxidant and repair systems, which could result in a decreased base level of oxidative damage and increased resistance to oxidative stress. See Note below)
Clearly, the superoxide anion radical (O2-) is more toxic than Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2)and its rapid removal is important since the formation of superoxide anion radical leads to a cascade of other ROS and an unwanted chain reaction forming other ROS is initiated.
(Reactive Oxygen Species) ROS modify both the structure and function of proteins, thereby messing up your body.
Finally,and again, radical-scavenging antioxidants (e.g., vitamin E, vitamin C, Alpha Lipoic Acid, Melatonin, etc) interrupt the chain reactions by capturing the radical; the vitamin E radical is relatively stable, and it can be enzymatically converted back to its non-radical form. In fact both Vitamin E and C are recycled by Alpha Lipoic Acid. Radical scavengers thus terminate the chain reaction of radical damage.
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