Free Radicals and the Aging Process

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Free Radicals and the Aging Process

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iStock_000016425837XSmallIf you’ve ever noticed an apple slice turn brown, or a piece of fish become rancid, you have witnessed something called oxidation. It’s a natural process that happens to all cells, including those in our bodies.

The idea of “Oxidative stress”is caused by an imbalance between the production of reactive oxygen and a body’s natural ability to detoxify the reactive intermediates or easily repair the resulting damage.  As your body tries to correct itself to promote self preservation, a few of these cells become damaged rather than simply dying and being replaced. Disturbances in this crucial balance can increase the build-up of peroxides and other free radicals that can damage all components of the cell, including proteins, lipids, and DNA.

 In this theory of oxidative stress, it is thought that there is this accumulation of damage that occurs over a person’s lifetime that increases the chances of abnormal cellular function.  For example, once a DNA molecule is changed in a certain way at a particular point in just one cell, this single cell can potentially grow to reproduce rapidly and in an uncontrolled fashion—in some cases we call this cancer.  More commonly, cells remain viable but damaged by free radicals which leave them alive yet prone to disease, as well as contributing to the body’s aging process.

This process is always occurring in a normal, healthy body.  It is thought that between 1 and 2 percent of cells are damaged due to free radicals during the oxidation process, and the body keeps them in check by naturally producing antioxidants. However, external toxins generate the production of many more free radicals – often more than the body can handle on its own. Such toxins include cigarette smoke, air pollution, sunlight, excessive amounts of alcohol, and pesticides in our food. These toxins are associated with several negative aspects of aging, such as skin damage and disease.

The problem with free radicals is that they set off a chain reaction to create more free radicals that is hard for the body to stop. Over time, it is theorized that the damage from free radicals can lead to cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and even Alzheimer’s dementia

To slow down or stop this damaging chain reaction, you can do two things: Cut down on your exposure to damaging toxins, and help your body fight back by getting more antioxidants in your diet. Look for foods that contain vitamins A, C, and E, in particular. Other antioxidants include classes of nutrients called flavonoids and polyhenols. Eating a balance of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes, and even green tea will help you get enough antioxidants in your diet. Over-the-counter vitamin supplements can also be helpful (despite recent claims), but these should be used as a complement to a healthy diet rather than a replacement.

Please call our office to schedule an appointment, and we can discuss ways to minimize your risk of diseases related to aging.