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Antioxidants and Aging


A high quality life requires balancing radical-generating and radical-scavenging systems.  We must burn food (fuel) with 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. Yet this magnificently efficient process is not 100% efficient and results in the production of unstable oxygen molecules that leak out of our cells during the burning process instead of being converted into water and carbon dioxide. These are called free radicals and Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). 

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 .

We are equipped  with molecules to neutralize these free radicals before they can do damage, however even this defense mechanism itself can be and is damaged in time and this is why antioxidant supplementation is so vital.  Some antioxidants are enzymes such as superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT), others are  vitamin E, vitamin C, coenzyme Q10 alpha lipoic acid, &  Melatonin,. Your levels of these antioxidants determine the degree to which the free radicals can damage your body.

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. 

 


 
Note:
Exercise and oxidative stress: significance of antioxidants with reference to inflammatory, muscular, and systemic stress.

Konig D, Wagner KH, Elmadfa I, Berg A.


Center for Internal Medicine, Department of Rehabilitation, Prevention, and Sports Medicine, Freiburg University Hospital, Germany. Dani@msm1.uk1.uni-freiburg.de

Many studies have demonstrated that intense muscular work generates considerable amounts of reactive oxygen species (ROS). In order to prevent oxidative stress, the body contains a large number of nonenzymatic and enzymatic antioxidants that either prevent ROS formation or scavenge radical species. Oxidative stress can lead to damage or destruction of cellular macromolecules such as lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids. Therefore, oxidative stress has been associated with decreased physical performance, muscular fatigue, muscle damage, and overtraining. It has been hypothesized that the body's physiological amount of antioxidants is not sufficient to prevent exercise-induced oxidative stress and that additional antioxidants are needed to reduce oxidative stress, muscular damage, or overshooting inflammation. However, some but not all investigations have demonstrated oxidative stress following physical exercise, and also, findings concerning the role of antioxidants in reducing oxidative stress are equivocal. In addition, a clear association between the amount of exercise-induced muscular, metabolic, hormonal, or inflammatory stress and levels of antioxidant vitamins could not be established consistently. Therefore, although the theoretical background may be sound, there is no scientific evidence to recommend increased quantities of antioxidants to physically active people exceeding the amount provided by a healthy, balanced nutrition.  (Editors comment...It is practically impossible to obtain "healthy, balanced nutrition" when you consider our depleted soil and deficient food chain.)


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