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Free Radical Theory of Aging

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Updated April 15, 2014

Free Radicals Defined:

Free radicals are a byproduct of normal cell function. When cells create energy, they also produce unstable oxygen molecules. These molecules, called free radicals, have a free electron. This electron makes the molecule highly unstable. The free radical bonds to other molecules in the body - causing proteins and other essential molecules to not function as they should. Luckily, antioxidants can minimize free radical damage.

Antioxidants - the Free Radical Sponge:

Antioxidants are substances found in plants that soak up free radicals like sponges. If your body has plenty of antioxidants available, it can minimize the damage caused by free radicals. Get your antioxidants from eating plants. There is some evidence that we can only get the full antioxidant benefits from eating real plants and other foods. Supplements appear not to be as effective.

How Free Radicals Cause Aging:

This theory asserts that many of the changes that occur as our bodies age are caused by free radicals. Damage to DNA, protein cross-linking and other changes have been attributed to free radicals. Over time, this damage accumulates and causes us to experience aging.

The Evidence:

There is some evidence. Studies have shown that increasing the amount of antioxidants in the diets of mice and other animals can slow the effects of aging. This theory does not fully explain all the changes that occur during aging. It is likely that free radicals are only one part in the aging equation.

More on Why We Age

Sources:

How Do We Age? The American Federation for Aging Research.

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