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The Science of Aging Part 2: The Free Radical Theory

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Are Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Antioxidants the “Fountain of Youth”?

The Free Radical Theory of Aging has been around for a while. We’ve all seen the adds for  “antioxidants “.

But what is a Free Radical, how can it age me and are vitamins the answer?

A free radical is an unstable molecule that has an oxygen atom attached to it that has an unpaired electron. Unpaired electrons are unhappy alone, and so the free radical goes bouncing around the cell wreaking havoc trying to find a mate. This havoc, is DNA damage. Aging is caused by DNA damage that can’t be repaired.

Luckily for us, our cells have a system for dealing with free radicals called called the Super Oxide Dismutase or SOD system. This system is a natural antioxidant system. Antioxidants donate an electron to the lonely one on our free radical  molecule, thus stabilising it and  taking it off the market so to speak.

External antioxidants  like Vitamin C, A and  E do a similar thing. That’s why topical Vitamin C can help with sunburn.

And we know that a diet low in antioxidants, and smoking and sunlight which promote free radicals increase the risk of Age Related Macular Degeneration, the leading cause of blindness as we age.

But, a little stress can be a good thing. We need a little push and pull, a little “Ying and yang” if you like. Exercise like weight lifting for example, creates free radicals that cause our muscles to be inflamed. However, when this happens our internal SOD system gets switched on and promotes muscle growth and repair….which is a GOOD thing and why we build muscle when we exercise. So sometimes free radicals can be good.

Also, If we decide to take in front and flood our systems with too many antioxidants when they are not needed then there is a theory that our natural SOD system goes to sleep. Maybe not such a good thing?

So while a little topical Vitamin C might help you if you have sunburn, taking high dose vitamins every day might not. Studies have shown that high doses of Vitamin E can actually increase the risk of certain cancers and if you take too much Vitamin C you will just pass it out in your urine : literally money down the toilet then.

If you have a healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables then most people don’t need to take antioxidants.

So who should take Vitamins? You only need vitamins if you have a Vitamin deficiency, with a few exceptions:

1.Pregnancy – Pregnant women need to take 400micrograms of Folic acid every day from pre-conception until 12 weeks of pregnancy to help lower the risk of Spina Bifida in their babies. They also need to take 10 micrograms of Vitamin D 3.

2.Most of us should consider a Vitamin D3 supplement because we get Vitamin D from the action of the sun on our skin. However, we are also paranoid about skin cancer from the suns rays (which are aging ) we cover up and wear sunscreen.

3. People with diagnosed Macular Degeneration. Trials have shown that a specific combination of Vitamins(including Vitamin C, E, Zinc, Lutein and Copper)  available from your eye doctor can slow progression of Age related macular degeneration…. so does stopping smoking.  Unfortunately, taking them prophylactically has NOT been shown to help.

Otherwise, stop smoking, wear sunblock and exercise… and look out for our next article about the genes that control how we age.