We come into this world with healthy cells, but every day the negative effects of free radicals add to the damage of the previous day. In fact, many of the processes we call “ageing” are simply evidence of the minute, cumulative effects of free radical damage on cells and tissues in the skin, heart, blood vessels, brain, and so forth.
What are free radicals and, more importantly, how can free radical damage be prevented? The answer lies with antioxidants, the molecules that fight free radicals.
Background: A Brief Look at Chemical Bonding
To understand the way that free radicals and antioxidants interact, you must first understand a bit about cells and molecules. So here’s a (very) brief refresher course.
The human body is composed of many different typyes of cells. Cells are composed of many different types of molecules. Molecules consist of one or more atoms of one or more elements joined by chemical bonds.
As you probably remember, atoms consist of a nucleus, neutrons, protons and electrons. The number of protons (positively charged particles) in the atoms nucleus determines the number of electrons (negatively charged particles) surrounding the atom.
Electrons are involved in chemical reactions and are the substance that bonds atoms together to form molecules. Electrons surround, or “orbit” an atom in one or more shells. The innermost shell is full when it has two electrons. When the first shell is full, electrons begin to fill the second shell.
The most important structural feature of an atom for determining its chemical behavior is the number of electrons in its outer shell. Because atoms seek to reach a state of maximum stability, an atom will try to fill it’s outer shell by:
- Gaining or losing electrons to either fill or empty its outer shell
- Sharing its electrons by bonding together with other atoms in order to complete its outer shell
The body’s trillion or so cells face formidable threats, from lack of food to infection with a virus. Another constant threat comes from nasty molecules called free radicals.
Free radical are molecules with an unpaired electron, which are highly unstable. Many free radicals are produced in the body when oxygen is transformed into energy in the mitochondria (powerhouse of the cell, which is responsible for building up energy) of the cell.
Free radical stabilises itself by pairing with another electron to satisfy molecular stability. This is called the free radical cascade. Free radicals belong to a family of molecules known as the reactive oxygen species.
What they all share is an appetite for electrons, stealing them from any nearby substances. This electron theft can radically alter the “loser’s” structure or function.
Free radical damage can change the instructions coded in a strand of DNA. It can make a circulating low-density lipoprotein (LDL, sometimes called bad cholesterol) molecule more likely to get trapped in an artery wall, causing the formation of plaque in arteries, leading to heart disease and stroke. Or it can alter a cell’s membrane, changing the flow of what enters the cell and what leaves it.
Each day, our young, healthy skin is exposed to trillions of free radicals. They are capable of damaging cells and genetic material. The body generates free radicals as the inevitable by-products of turning food into energy and through normal, necessary chemical reactions . Others are in the food you eat and the air you breathe, pollution, UV radiation, x-rays, stress, strenuous exercise, and smoking. Smoking in particular can be harmful: each cigarette releases ten quadrillion free radicals into the lungs. This is why smokers age so much faster than non-smokers.
Overexposure to free radicals damages not only our cells’ ability to function, but also the integrity of our cells, resulting in a next generation of cells that is less healthy and less productive than the cells they came from.
In the case of our skin, cells exposure to free radicals can mean that over time our fibroblasts—the cells responsible for collagen and elastin production—work less efficiently to produce the skin protein necessary for skin smoothness, firmness, and elasticity.
Although this decrease in collagen and elastin production happens gradually beneath the outermost surface of our skin, it becomes visible sometime in our late 20s or early 30s when we look in the mirror and discover our first wrinkle.
The Free Radical theory of Ageing (FTRA) states that organisms age because of cumulative damage, which would eventually lead to organism loss of functionality, and ultimately death.
Free radicals are now believed by most medical researches to be the bottom line of ageing and disease, contributing not only to wrinkles by to acne, skin sensitivity, cellulite, dryness, cancer and even age spots.
The FRTA was expanded to include not only ageing, but also age-related disease and have been linked to a range of disorders including cancer, arthritis, artherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
Free-radicals are short-lived molecules, with an average life span of one-millionth of a second, are very potent toxins that afflict our bodies. By attacking the cell’s DNA, free radicals destroy the cell, causing healthy cells to die prematurely.
When we’re young, our natural antioxidant defense system functions well by “mopping up” free radicals before they can cause damage. However, as we age, the antioxidant defense system becomes less efficient through down-regulation of oxidative enzymes. The increase in free radical damage impairs cellular regulation and functioning and triggers aging symptoms as well as many diseases.
Why do cells become susceptible to free radical damage? First, the daily energy production by the cell generates increased numbers of free radicals as by-products. The second reason is due to the constant repairing and of the DNA back into chromosomes. These activities often cause a fault in the repair process, damaging DNA.
The third reason is external free radical assault. This assault comes from sunlight (including UVA and UVB rays), pollution, stress, smoking, etc. Smoking a single cigarette generates trillions of free radicals.
Damage occurs when the free radical pulls an electron off a neighboring molecule, causing the affected molecule to become a free radical itself. The new free radical can then pull an electron off the next molecule, and a chemical chain reaction happens. Such an event causes damage to the molecule, and thus to the cell that contains it (since the molecule often becomes dysfunctional).
DNA cross-linking can in turn lead to various effects of aging, especially cancer. Other cross-linking can occur between fat and protein molecules, which leads to wrinkles. These are examples of how the free-radical theory of aging has been used to neatly “explain” the origin of many chronic diseases.
In addition to the molecular DNA damage that free radicals create, they also cause damage to other basic cellular structures such as mitochondria, the structures inside the cell responsible for cellular energy production. Think of the cell as a small factory. In this factory, thousands of mitochondria act like tiny power generators that enable the cell to function properly.
When scientists talk about the effect of free radicals on cellular components, such as DNA or mitochondria, they say the structure has been “oxidized.” When free radicals oxidatively damage cell structures, the health of the entire cell is weakened.
Oxidative stress is damage to cell structure and cell function by overly reactive oxygen-containing molecules and chronic excessive inflammation. Oxidative stress seems to play a significant role in many human diseases, including cancers.
The body has the ability to repair free radical damage with the use of anti-oxidant. The strongest biological agent know to repair free radical damage is SOD (superoxide dismutase) which is destroyed by sunlight.
You may be surprised to know that every day, each skin cell can be exposed to more than 73,000 damaging assaults. Our skin cells experience even heavier damage because they’re a part of an external organ and are exposed to even more harmful elements.
The Free Radical Theory of Aging is particularly relevant to skin cells. The unstable free radical molecules vibrate in the skin, literally poking holes in the collagen fibers (the skin’s support structure) of the dermis. After years of this free radical assault, the collagen, which is a critical structural element of skin, becomes weaker and eventually causes the skin to collapse and form wrinkles. The rapid rate at which skin cells divide causes a shorter life span for the cell, and as we mature, the number of skin cells in our bodies decreases. Over time, the process results in our skin becoming thinner and thinner. Essentially, the more skin cells in your body and the thicker these cells are, the healthier your skin will be and the less wrinkles you will have.
Slowing Down the Aging Process
Despite the seemingly overwhelming assault of free radicals on our healthy cells, there is a line of defense.
Antioxidants are a category of nutrients that have the ability to defend our cells by fighting cell-damaging free radicals. Since free radicals are created both in the environment and in our bodies, a continuous supply of antioxidants is critical for internal and external health and longevity. By defending our cells against free radicals, antioxidants can help slow the internal and external aging processes.
Now, how do we slow down aging? Scientists have come to a realization through many years of study that to prevent accelerated aging and to keep your skin from getting old and wrinkled, you need to protect your DNA from both outside and inside aggressors.
How do we measure our anti-oxidant levels?
With the Pharmanex biophotonic scanner – non-invasely.
So, if you want to live to 100—or at least improve your quality of life on the way to 100—I have a formula for you. Here’s my “inside out” approach to a lifetime of health and beauty:
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We all know that the food we eat are not equipped to give us the needed, vitally important vitamins and minerals we need to fight off all the attacks on our skin, hair and body. We need to start looking at protecting our bodies and skin with the products we use.
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