The Cause Of Aging and Disease
How do we protect our bodies from aging and degenerative diseases? Everywhere in health columns we hear about the dangers of free radicals, and the benefits of taking anti-oxidants. But what do these terms really mean? Are free radicals really all that evil, and are anti-oxidants entirely good? To understand the question properly, we need to grasp the concept of oxidative stress.
So what are free radicals? Oxygen-derived free radicals are natural byproducts of normal biological functions such as breathing, immunity, energy production and biosynthesis of proteins. This normal production of free radicals from within the body is healthy, as long as numbers are held in check, and any excess production is neutralized by anti-oxidants.Normally, free radicals are swiftly destroyed by various antioxidant enzymes and small antioxidant molecules, which the body produces to prevent free radicals from reacting with lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids. This dangerous reaction of excessive streams of free radicals bombarding our cells, especially fat cells, or our DNA, leads to degenerative diseases such as heart failure, stroke or Alzheimer’s. It is imperative to maintain a balance between the production of free radicals and anti-oxidants. This is like the balance between yin and yang. Without the yin-yang balance between free radical production and anti-oxidants, our bodies will eventually succumb to chronic damage to organ systems. This is the reason why so much research time has been devoted in recent years to exploring the role of oxidative stress in the pathogenesis of many disease types, including atherosclerosis, cancer, macular degeneration, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
The problem is, most of the time we need more anti-oxidants than our cells can produce, or that we are getting directly from our daily dietary intake.
Oxygen-derived free radicals help fight off acute problems such as infections but they are continuously generated by the body when it is a state of chronic inflammation. Inflammation is a very serious and common condition today, as we are all being bombarded by pesticides, hormone disruptors and other environmental toxins, and our over-burdened immune systems have been unable to cope with total body pathogen burden, or have gone haywire and reacted by attacking ourselves (as in auto-immune diseases.) Free radicals are numerous in chronic granulomatous disease. This is a condition in which the immune system is chronically producing too many granulocytes, and too few lymphocytes. This typical yin-yang imbalance results from (and creates) another yin-yang imbalance in the autonomic nervous system. When the sympathetic nervous system is chronically elevated, the body will produce too many granulocytes and vice versa. What this means is too many free radicals and not enough anti-oxidants. A wide variety of pharmaceutical drugs are also either converted to, or stimulate the formation of, free radicals.
Avoiding Heart Disease, Cancer and Brain Degeneration
When free radicals strike into lipoproteins (fats that have accumulated in the body, especially ldl cholesterol) a nasty new type of fat is created: oxidized fat. Oxidized fat leads on to heart disease, neurodegenerative disease, and cancer. By activating inflammatory events, oxidized lipoproteins switch on the inflammatory process further, in a vicious cycle. Ironically, the most commonly prescribed steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine, prednisone, itself causes oxidation of fats, and in the long term just makes the inflammatory process much worse. Excessive iron held in the skin cells is also a factor, and contributes further to premature aging.
Protection and Prevention
How can we protect ourselves? Anti-oxidants prevent damage to our vessel walls. It is here that plaque otherwise will build up, or chronic inflammation and infection will set in, leading on to genome (DNA) mutation and various cancers. Where can we find dietary anti-oxidant sources? Most fresh, organic fruits and vegetables are naturally filled with anti-oxidants. Particularly helpful are berries and also green tea. Glutathione is the main anti-oxidant working within our cells, and can be supplemented directly, or via precursors such as N-acetyl-cysteine.
To Avoid, When Possible:
- Processed foods, especially industrial grade fats (transfatty acids.)
- Corn sweeteners especially, and any other dubious food additives.
- Bishphenol A (a toxin contained in almost all plastic bottles) and causes leaky gut syndrome.
- Steroids of any sort.
- Antibiotics (which destroy or degrade the gut flora and increase inflammatory processes.)
To Absorb, When Possible:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables, especially berries and dark green vegetables.
- Green tea.
- Purified water.
- Healthy omega 3 and omega 6 fats (from wild salmon, flaxseed etc.)
- Healthy fermented foods (such as sauerkraut, miso, kefir, yoghurt etc.)