Anti-Aging Antioxidants

Slow the sands of time by neutralizing free radical damage.

By Lisa James

May 2009


All would live long but none would be old,” Ben Franklin once quipped and, as usual, he was right. In our own day we appreciate a longer life expectancy but can do without the gray hair and furrowed skin that mark advancing age.

The desire to reduce aging’s effects didn’t start in Franklin’s era—people have always sought the proverbial “fountain of youth.” Scientists are pursuing several avenues of anti-aging research, including the theory that aging results from a problem posed by oxygen.

Cells Under Attack

Cell damage, according to this theory, is rooted in our need for oxygen. While crucial for energy production, this element can degrade into unstable molecules called free radicals as the result of normal metabolism. Such free radicals bounce around the cell like balls in a pinball machine, damaging cellular structures.

Outside sources, such as the ultraviolet (UV) light found in the sun’s rays, can also promote free radical formation within the body. This helps explain why excessive sun exposure can result in the leathery, mottled skin we associate with advancing age.

Free radicals can be neutralized by substances called antioxidants, which help restrain the chemical reactions that produce these molecules. And while vitamins C and E are among the best-known antioxidants, they aren’t the only ones.

Antioxidants to the Rescue

Because oxygen is a double-edged sword—needed for survival yet prone to free radical production—nature provides a number of antioxidants. But the body’s defenses can be overwhelmed by such factors as pollution and poor nutrition. Supplementation provides a valuable backup.

One way to fight the free radical damage associated with aging is to enhance the body’s own antioxidant stores. N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) provides compounds that can stimulate production of glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant. In lab studies NAC has reduced oxidative stress and other dysfunctions linked to high glucose levels (Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology 11/08).

Superoxide dismutase (SOD) is an enzyme that protects against damage caused by superoxide, one of the main reactive types of oxygen found within cells. Mice born without this antioxidant enzyme don’t live as long as normal mice and develop age-related muscle loss (Free Radical Biology & Medicine 6/1/06). Because SOD is destroyed by stomach acid, it is available in combination with gliadin, a wheat protein that protects SOD from the digestive process.

The membrane that surrounds each cell contains fatty substances while the cell’s interior is water-based. Many antioxidants only operate in one environment or the other; alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is a universal antioxidant that can fight free radicals wherever they occur. Some scientists believe that ALA may help protect mitochondria, which produce energy within the cell, against damage linked to the aging process (Neuro­chemical Research 1/08).

Protecting cells from free radicals is a crucial anti-aging tactic; nourishing skin and other tissues is another. MSM supplies sulfur for the creation of collagen, the protein “mesh” that supports cells in the skin and joints. People who have used MSM to help ease arthritic pain report the added benefit of a softer, younger look. MSM may even help ease discomfort in diseases that cause thick, scaly skin (Ostomy Wound Management 4/06).

“Little strokes fell great oaks,” said Ben Franklin’s alter ego, Poor Richard. In the same way, tiny free radicals can damage your cells over time. Let antioxidants help keep them at bay.

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