January 26, 2015

303 Free Radicals & Aging [26 January 2015]

In his book “Life – the Epic Story of our Mitochondria” Lee Know explains the mitochondrial theory of aging.

The Electron Transfer Chain (ETC) which produces ATP energy in our cells’ mitochondria also produces most of the free radicals that occur in our body. Free radicals are not long-haired hippies on the loose but are highly reactive negatively charged ions which can damage the mitochondrial DNA. If you recall from #301, mitochondrial DNA is not protected in a nucleus (as is our cellular DNA) and occurs throughout the mitochondria often near the sites of the ETC. As DNA damage by free radicals accumulates the mitochondria lose their ability to produce energy and eventually die. When enough mitochondria in a cell die, the cell dies. As the cells die, the function of the affected organs decline with resulting chronic illnesses of old age. Then we die. This in a nutshell is the mitochondrial theory of aging. There are two different strategies that we can use to slow this process and hopefully live longer healthier lives.

The first is to reduce the creation of the free radicals. Free radicals form when something interrupts the electron transfer chain. Normally the electron safely passes through each step, handed from one complex to the next, until the final step in which water and ATP are produced. If one of the units of a complex is missing or in short supply, electrons will build up at that step and spill over into molecules (usually oxygen) in the surrounding matrix, forming free radicals. Ensuring we have sufficient of all of the nutrients mentioned in last week’s article is important. For example if CoQ10 is in short supply electrons will build up in Complex 1 (which by the way has the highest production of free radicals in the ETC). Electrons will also back up if the end product ATP is not being used fast enough. Following a meal with exercise rather than a nap will slow the aging process.

The other strategy is to ensure sufficient antioxidants in the mitochondria to neutralize the free radicals before they cause damage. Glutathione, the most important antioxidant in the cell, requires selenium (see #208) and the amino acid cysteine. More on glutathione next week.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

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