This is Part 2 of my series on aging and oxidative stress. Please read my previous post, Oxygen is Killing Us.
I don’t want to get old. Really, I’m just not interested.
Yeah, you can lecture me on the wisdom we acquire as we age. I couldn’t agree more. I’m totally down with that. But that’s not what I’m talking about. The aging I’m referring to is the kind that shuffles down the street, drives 50 mph in the fast lane, and knows when a storm is coming by how his joints feel. Nope. You can count me out of that one.
And no, I’m not in denial. I’ve been known to pluck a gray hair or two. I know my hairline isn’t what it used to be. Yet if it were possible to slow down the aging process and avert the litany of degenerative diseases that come along with it, who wouldn’t be intrigued by that prospect?
In the late 1950s, a scientist by the name of Denham Harman, M.D., Ph.D., proposed what is known as the free radical theory of aging. As you may recall from my previous blog post, free radicals are an inevitable byproduct of metabolism. They hold the dubious distinction of being a fact of life and at the same time a contributor to death and disease.
With all due respect, Harman’s postulation resides within the realm of what I consider to be common sense. If our bodies are made up of trillions of cells, it is not a stretch to surmise that the condition of the cells determines the condition (and function) of the body. The accumulation of wear and tear on our cell membranes and the structures, organelles, and DNA within them is without question a major factor in aging and degenerative diseases.
A weathered, dilapidated home with poor plumbing and a leaky roof was at one time brand new. So goes the human body.
To review, the mechanism by which free radicals sabotage cellular function is through a process called oxidation or oxidative stress. In other words, there is an ongoing looting spree going on within our bodies. The free radicals aren’t actually up to no good, they’re just following the laws of chemistry.
If you flash back again to high school chemistry, you likely recall that electrons prefer to travel in pairs. One is the loneliest number, even for atoms and molecules. Carrying a single unpaired electron, free radicals do what they have to do to hook up. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough electrons to go around. In order to complete itself, a free radical must steal an electron from another cell.
Just think of it as the guy who procrastinates on asking his dream girl to the prom. When he finally asks, she’s already taken. Frustrated and frantic, he scrambles to find a date. Eventually, he steals another guy’s date. Imagine the drama!
Within your cells, the drama can be DNA damage. When this occurs, cells may not divide properly, resulting in a malfunctioning and possibly cancerous cell. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For the sake of brevity, a malfunctioning cell gives rise to malfunctioning organs, which give rise to malfunctioning systems, which give rise to the diseases of aging. These diseases include, but are not limited to, heart disease, the many neurodegenerative diseases, osteoporosis, and diabetes.
Free radical damage (oxidative stress) plays a role in over 200 diseases. Most of us will succumb to at least one of them.
Again, I’m not interested.
Instead, I choose to use the wisdom of my years to control the free radical fire burning within. To forever walk with long strides. To remain independent until it’s my time to go. To age gracefully.
That’s how it should be.
Stay tuned for Part 3!