The Free Radical Theory of Aging

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According to the free radical theory, aging is the cumulative result of oxidative damage to the cells and tissues of the body that arises primarily as a result of aerobic metabolism. Some of the lines of evidence used to support this hypothesis include:
variation in species life span is connected to metabolic rate and protective antioxidant activity;
improved expression of antioxidative enzymes in experimental animals can produce an increase in life span;
cellular levels of free radical damage grow with age. Reduced-calorie intake leads to a decline in the production of reactive oxygen species and an increase in longevity.
We can also use the free radical theory to explain many of the structural features that come with ageing. Some of them include the decline of mitochondrial function, DNA damage, cross-linkage of proteins, lipid peroxidation of membranes, and formation of age pigments. Free radicals only occur in traces in biological tissues, their cellular levels and actions cannot be measured in vivo, and solid proof of oxidised molecules being the primary cause of ageing is non-existent.
More On Free Radicals
When creating energy, the cells in our bodies produce unstable oxygen molecules at the same time, i.e. the free radicals. We can define them as a by-product of normal cell function. Namely, free radicals are unstable because they have a free electron. Once bonded to other molecules in the body, free radicals prevent proteins and other essential molecules from functioning properly. Free radicals can be produced both by carcinogens and the normal metabolic processes of cells. Some of the exposure to carcinogens concern:
  • poor diet
  • stress
  • smoking
  • alcohol
  • exercise
  • inflammation drugs
  • exposure to the sun or air pollutants
  • medical radiation

Free Radicals and Aging

  • As previously mentioned, the free radical theory of aging suggests that many of the changes our bodies go through with age are caused by free radicals. From the damages to DNA to protein cross-linking, everything is being attributed to free radicals. As time goes by, all the damages caused in our organism, accumulate, evolve and eventually cause us to experience ageing. The prematurely aged, wrinkled skin of smokers, for instance, is caused by nothing less but the free radical-induced damage that smoking causes. In fact, smoking is probably the biggest contributor to voluntary exposure to free radicals.
    According to studies, increasing the number of antioxidants in the diets of mice and other animals has proved to slow the effects of aging. However, this theory can’t explain all the changes that occur during aging entirely. What’s more, free radicals are most likely only one major factor that contributes to aging. Free radicals throw the normal production of DNA and RNA off balance. Moreover, they alter the lipids, or fats, in cell membranes. They are the main cause of cells lining blood vessels damage when you’re being exposed to free radicals.
    Proteins can also be affected by free radicals. Namely, proteins are complex chains of amino acids that bend into three-dimensional structures. Because of the free radical damage, aging leads to alteration of proteins i.e. cross-linking. This process occurs when attachments are formed along the chain in abnormal places, which inevitably disrupts the protein’s function. The consequences this can have are:
  • poor cell membrane performance in molecular transport,
  • decreased enzyme activity,



Inhibition Of Immune Function.
In fact, more recent research suggests that free radicals may actually be beneficial to the body to a certain extent. What they suggest is that we need to consume more antioxidants than we normally would through our diet, which can potentially have the opposite intended effect. As one of the studies performed on worms showed, those that were treated with free radicals lived longer than other worms. However, this still hasn’t been confirmed for humans, but the option remains open.


Antioxidants and Aging
Antioxidants are substances found in plants that absorb free radicals. Antioxidants are believed to minimize free radical damage If your body has plenty of antioxidants available. They can potentially lessen the damage caused by free radicals. The way to getting all of the antioxidant benefits is to eat plenty of small red beans, red kidney beans, wild blueberries, pinto beans, cranberries, prunes, raspberries, artichoke heart and strawberries, to name a few. Supplements appear not to be as effective.


With all the research taking place, the free radical theory of aging is facing some serious controversies. Moreover, we can’t reduce aging to a single cause because aging is likely to be a multifactorial process. Despite its positive features, the evidence for the free radical theory is either correlative or inconclusive. However, it is very recommended for everyone to stay away from the free radicals’ exposure and try to live as healthier a life as possible. Don’t smoke, spend too much time under the sun, abuse alcohol, and try to eat as much antioxidant-rich food as possible.

” It takes as much courage to have tried and failed as it does to have tried and succeeded”

– Anne Morrow Lindbergh

NOTE * :

Although all material mentioned herein is based on scientific fact,it is for information purposes Only! And not intended to be a substitute to diagnose,treat or cure any health problems or mental disorders or any sympyoms thereof. Consult your Family or General Practitioner and/or Dietitian before starting any form of health regime.

About the author: NORMAND SAVOIE

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