Nothing’s uglier than a rust spot on a classic automobile. It takes away the beauty and reminds us that aging, no matter what, is inevitable.
You might feel the same way when you look in the mirror and see a wrinkle, another gray hair, or experience another symptom of aging. Forgetfulness, weakness, or any of the other changes people tend to go through as they age can bring about memories of times past—an era when you looked younger, felt healthier, and were filled with youthful energy.
Anti-aging is a huge industry, but new research is challenging a widely held concept of how aging works. It appears that the popular anti-aging methods may, in fact, be speeding up the process.
Beautiful cars rust because of their exposure to oxygen. The oxygen eventually wears away at the metal through a process called oxidation. The same process occurs in your body at the cellular level through oxidization, when your cells are exposed to free radicals, also known as “oxidants.”
To stop the process of oxidization and cell damage, you’ve likely been told to take antioxidants. Antioxidants are often said to fight cell damage, stop the spread of disease through cells, and contribute to anti-aging.
New research, however, is showing that antioxidants might actually contribute to aging, while free radicals fight against it. (Basically, the exact opposite of what seems to have become common knowledge!) A research team has learned that free radical production ramps up as you get older to help you stay younger, not to kill you off!
The misconception seems to come from the fact that as a person ages, they have more free radicals floating through their body, causing cell damage. But as it turns out, these free radicals are helping cells fight off and block aging through a process called “apoptosis.” Apoptosis is when damaged cells essentially commit suicide to avoid harmful situations. In essence, they sacrifice themselves for the greater good! The research team found that by boosting free radicals, they were actually reinforcing the cells’ defenses against aging, increasing their lifespan!
So this can leave you with a tough decision, because antioxidants are an inherent part of a healthy diet. No one is going to argue that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables—all containing antioxidants—is bad for your health. These foods all have links to a healthier life by providing essential vitamins and minerals, contributing to weight loss, boosting your heart’s health, and lowering your risk for diseases and conditions like high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
The benefits of a healthy diet containing antioxidants are well documented, but the jury is still out on many of the so-called benefits of antioxidant supplementation. Although there is a lot of hype surrounding them, the science behind a lot of the claims isn’t necessarily there to back them up. This is true with aging.
It’s my opinion that the best way to age slowly is to not get too tied up in the minute details. Maintain a healthy diet, get some exercise, and keep your mind stimulated. You don’t need to fill your cupboards with antioxidant anti-aging creams or supplements. In fact, you might not want to! Although free radicals can lead to cell degeneration, this is not necessarily a bad thing all of the time. And it appears that taking antioxidant supplements isn’t particularly effective in stopping the effects of aging. Sticking to quality nutrition is the best way to extend your life and remain healthy, so fight aging by eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein!
Sources for Today’s Article:
“Anti-oxidants: Beyond the Hype,” Harvard School of Public Health web site, 2014; http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/antioxidants/, last accessed May 16, 2014.
Callista, Y., et al., “The Intrinsic Apoptosis Pathway Mediates the Pro-Longevity Response to Mitochondrial ROS in C. elegans,” Cell 2014; 157 (4): 897, doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2014.02.055.