Antioxidants: Our Companions in Healthy Aging
Antioxidants: Our Companions in Healthy Aging
By Amanda M. Williams, MPH
Director of Nutrition – Boca Raton, Florida
For decades, scientists have tirelessly searched to answer the age old question of how to live longer, healthier lives. We can go back in time to the 1950’s, when a medical doctor and researcher by the name of Denman Harmon began his research on free radicals. Dr. Harmon proposed that free radicals were the causative agents of aging. However, by the mid 1960’s, he discovered that his theory should instead be focused on the mitochondrial damage due to free radicals. He found that mitochondrial damage and dysfunction was the direct result of free radical exposure. Hence, his theory was renamed to the Mitochondrial Theory of Aging.
What does "Healthy Aging" mean?
The term ‘healthy aging’ is meant literally to optimize the years of healthy living by protecting ourselves from damaging our bodies and avoiding common diseases associated with aging. It may seem like a simplistic proposal to just eat healthy, exercise regularly, and use high-quality antioxidant supplements. However, many struggle with balancing everyday life and stressors so much so that we inadvertently speed up our aging process and reduce our longevity.
How does damage to our cells occur?
As we age, damage in our cells caused by free radicals leads to accelerated aging and disease. Antioxidants prevent free radical-induced tissue damage by preventing the formation of radicals by scavenging them, or by promoting their decomposition. Free radicals are molecules that possess a free electron making them “uncoupled”. Think: a person is at a dance with no dance partner. And once they find someone to dance with, they continue to step on their partner’s feet. A free radical does this to our cells by attacking the cell membrane, destroying the enzymes, and disrupting proteins from being made, along with creating waste products.
The mitochondria is the cells energy maker. This is where ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is made and used to fuel our cells to perform the necessary functions to survive. We do not want to damage our energy source and disrupt normal cell function. The Mitochondrial Theory of Aging suggests that the number and functionality of the mitochondria can determine an individual’s longevity. Mitochondrial dysfunction is most likely to be evident in the areas of the body with the highest energy requirements, such as the heart and the brain.
Protection against Free Radicals using Antioxidants
Luckily, there have been ample research studies to suggest that diets that are rich in antioxidants provide a protective effect against free radicals. Foods high in antioxidants such as raw fruits and vegetables that are bright in color (like berries and peppers) should be a regular part of your dietary routine. Dietary sources of antioxidants are generally not consumed in quantities high enough to combat the large number of free radicals we are exposed to on a daily basis. Fresh, organic fruits and vegetables are always the best choice, as they are not likely to come with free radicals existing on or in them.
The body has the ability to protect against free radicals by making its own endogenous antioxidants. These include Glutathione, Super Oxide Dismutase, Catalase, Co-enzyme Q, L-Carnitine, Melatonin, and Alpha-Lipoic Acid. Supplemental sources of antioxidants are always a great way to boost your free radical fighting abilities. At minimum, a daily, non-GMO multivitamin should be utilized to gain added Vitamin C, E, and selenium. Ubiquinol would be highly advisable to support the heart and the brain from repeated free radical attacks. It is important to remember that Ubiquinol is the reduced antioxidant form of CoQ and will provide more benefit than the ubiquinone form.
So, the next time you walk into a grocery store, make sure you choose the fresh blueberries over the blueberry muffins and remember to take your supplements daily. Take your health seriously! You and your mitochondria will be very grateful.
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4. Harmon,D. The aging process. Proc Nat’l Acad Scio USA. 1981 Nov;78(11):7124-8
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