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managing an LCHF lifestyle in Israel

Free Radicals = Aging, or …?

My husband has been a subscriber to Scientific American for many decades. Nowadays one can read many articles online but he likes to get the paper edition and we have a nice collection of 6 decades! (Well, the earlier ones were his dad’s. 😉 )

Every now and then a title on the front page catches my eye and so happened with the February issue: “The Myth about Antioxidants”.

What? Another myth? Yet a health related fact that isn’t true? Of course I had to read the article. And this is what I learned:

A young chemist by the name of  Denham Harman, started in the mid-1940’s to to be interested in the aging process after he read an article in one of his wife’s magazines. About a decade later he had finished his medical studies and started to work with research. One day, “… just ‘out the blue’ …” he thought that maybe “aging” had to do with something called “free radicals”. At the time it seemed logical from what he knew about ionizing radiation and how an aging body had more of damaged cells and free radicals than a young body. It was known then that food-based antioxidants could slow the damages of e.g. radioactivity. To tell it shortly, Harman put together some puzzle pieces, formed a hypotheses and started to experiment. He showed that by giving anti-oxidants to mice they lived longer. So he was right, wasn’t he?

Yet another few years, in 1969, some other researchers discovered a natural occurring anti-oxidant in the body. So that had to mean that anti-oxidants are good to fight free radicals, right?

Well, it started to be commonly accepted as a “fact” …

BUT – Research actually went on and not many researchers managed to replicate Harman’s results. Furthermore, in the 1990’s when gene manipulations made it easier to research such things, it was shown again and again that the levels of free radicals and anti-oxidants in the blood had no effects on the lab mice’s life length. More research were conducted and now the results started to be the opposite! Worms that was given extra amounts of free radicals, that were supposed to make them die younger, actually lived longer. And when these worms were treated with anti-oxidants, they didn’t live longer. Ooops! 😉

So what is right and wrong? Are free radicals causing aging? Are anti-oxidants the rescue? Or is it the opposite?

Well, first we need to know what free radicals are. That is being researched in depth now. First it was thought that it’s only residues of damaged cells. Now it’s thought that they are actually produced by damaged cells to signal to the body that cell repair is needed. And of course there are much more going on, like the interesting view that free radicals caused by training is actually something good and not bad as been thought till now.

Okay, but that free radicals aren’t as bad for you as previously claimed, doesn’t necessarily mean that anti-oxidants aren’t good. Right? Well … That’s also being researched now and it seems that too much anti-oxidants might not be the healthiest for you. At best, it doesn’t do anything, but at worst, who knows?

So what to do? Stop taking supplements?

I believe that if you give your body the food it’s designed for, it will know what to do and how to produce the right amounts of free radicals and anti-oxidants and all the rest this beautiful machine called body does every day. However, if you have some deficiencies, from malnutrition or illnesses, then supplements could be a good thing.

In the meantime, have you noticed how “anti-oxidant” have become a buzz word in marketing? Is it really necessary to drink a sugary drink because it has traces of blue berries in it?

(If you want to read the article itself I think you have to get the magazine as I  only find this preview online.)

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This entry was posted on February 20, 2013 by in Research and tagged , , , , .

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