Healthy Ageing: Combat Free Radicals

After forty years of research on free radicals we know that of all the theories of aging the “Free Radical Theory of Ageing” has stood the test of time. This theory was first propose by Prof. Denham Harman in 1954 and postulates that ageing results from an accumulation of changes caused by reaction in the body initiated by highly reactive molecules known as “free radicals”. The changes induced by free radicals are believed to be a major cause of ageing, disease development or death. So what are free radicals?

Free Radicals

The body’s cells use oxygen to produce energy,. In the process, oxygen sometimes reacts with body compound to produce highly unstable molecules known as free radicals. In addition to normal body processes, environmental factors such as radiation, pollution, tobacco smoke, and others can act as oxidants and cause free radicals formation. The trouble begins when free radicals in the body exceed its defenses against them, a condition known as oxidative stress.

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Free radical damage commonly disrupts unsaturated fatty acids in cells membranes, damaging the membranes ability to transport substances into and out of cells. Free radicals also cause damage to cell proteins, altering their function, and to DNA, disrupting all cells that inherit the damaged DNA.

The Body Defences Against Free Radicals

The body’s two main systems of defense against damage from free radicals are its reserves of antioxidants and its enzyme systems that oppose oxidation. These defense system try to handle all free radicals, but they are not 100 percent effective. If insufficient radical fighting agents are present in the body, if free radicals become excessive, or if the body’s repair system cannot undo all the damage, health problems may develop. Unrepaired damage accumulates as people age.

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Antioxidant Vitamins

The body maintains pools of the antioxidant vitamins: vitamin E, vitamin C, and the vitamin A precursor beta-carotene. These vitamins actively scavenge and quench free radicals.

The sources of antioxidants are from our foods especially fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes which also contain phytonutrients which have antioxidants properties.

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Factors That Increase Free Radical Formation

Body Factors

  • Energy metabolism
  • Diabetes
  • Exercise
  • Acute illness
  • Immune response
  • Injury
  • Obesity
  • Other disease
  • Other metabolic reactions
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Environmental Factors

  • Air pollutions
  • Asbestos
  • High level of vitamin C
  • High levels of oxygen
  • Radioactive emissions
  • Pesticides, insecticides
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Trace minerals (iron, copper)
  • Ultraviolet light rays

Management of Free Radicals

Preventing free radical damage is true preventive medicine. Today I advice my patients to have a free radical test done.

Currently there are two ways to measure free radicals i.e urine test and blood test.

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