Longevity experts agree that one of the primary causes of aging is oxidative stress caused by free radical attacks. Free radicals are unstable, highly reactive particles that are a byproduct of your metabolism — more about them later.
Oxidation and The Aging Process. You've seen oxidation at work before, when you’ve sliced an apple and let it sit out for awhile, or when you've seen rusting metal. Your body ages in much the same way, except it's from the inside out. This aging process results in loss of muscle tone, stiffening of tissue, and dry, wrinkled skin.
Aging also reduces the number of healthy cells in your body. As more cells are affected and die off, your body loses its ability to respond to infections and free radical attacks. Eventually, this manifests in some kind of disease.
Oxidative stress may be the sole cause of some diseases, but more often it weakens your immune system and makes your body vulnerable to diseases caused by other factors. Oxidation may also worsen existing conditions and slow down the healing process.
The truth is that there's almost no common disease that is not associated with oxidative stress. This include all of the major degenerative diseases we have today:
Assuming that oxidation is the underlying cause of all disease, you can see that any disease that does emerge is just an indication of which part of your body lost the battle against the free radicals first.
Sources of oxidative stress are all around you. They fall into the following general categories:
The growing rate of degenerative diseases in our culture today points to an epidemic of antioxidant deficiencies.
How did this happen? First of all, the human body evolved while humans were eating a lot more food than we do today, especially fruits and vegetables, combined with a strenuous lifestyle. Today, we live a relatively sedate lifestyle, combined with less nutritious food.
At the same time, our rate of exposure to oxidative stress has been climbing dramatically, especially in the last hundred years. The human body has not had enough evolutionary time to adapt to these new stress factors. Biologists say that the we are essentially the same as humans were 40,000 years ago, but our environment has changed dramatically.
We don't eat enough fruits and vegetables. Statistics show that very few people in western cultures eat six or more servings of fresh fruit and vegetables every day, as recommended. These are the best sources of antioxidants in your diet.
Overeating is another of the major causes of aging. Another factor in increased free radical production is the fact that many of us eat more calories than we need. Food requires oxygen to convert it into energy. The more you eat, the more oxygen is used, and the more free radicals are produced.
This theory is clearly demonstrated by the numerous "calorie-restriction" diets. Laboratory animals were found to live longer and healthier lives when eating a nutrient-dense diet with 40-50 percent fewer calories. With less food to metabolize, fewer free radicals are produced.
Industrial agriculture leads to less nutritious foods. Due to the growing use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, modern crops are being harvested earlier than ever before. That means produce has less time to absorb nutrients from the soil, and chemical fertilizers often interfere with a plant's ability to take up those nutrients.
Selective breeding to increase crop yield has led to declines in the nutritional value in typical factory-farmed fruits and vegetables. It has been documented that the average vegetable found in today's supermarket is anywhere from 5 to 40 percent lower in minerals (including magnesium, iron, calcium and zinc) than those harvested just 50 years ago.
Organic foods are more nutritious. According to the Journal of Applied Nutrition, organically-grown fruits and vegetables have significantly higher nutritional content than conventional produce: "Organically grown apples, wheat, sweet corn, potatoes and pears were examined over a 2 year period and were 63% higher in calcium, 73% higher in iron, 118% higher in magnesium, 178% higher in molybdenum, 91% higher in phosphorus, 125% higher in potassium and 60% in zinc than conventionally grown produce."
Genes only play a small part in your rate of aging. Some of your ability to protect yourself from oxidative stress is determined by the genes you inherited. Each individual body has a different capacity to produce antioxidant enzymes than will defend against free radical attacks. This is one explanation of why things like certain diseases and lifespan sometimes "runs in the family."
However, only about 10-20 percent of your rate of aging is dependent on your genes. The rest has to do with your diet and lifestyle choices. This means that you are in control of most aging factors.
Antioxidants can trump genetics. Although you can't do anything about the genes you were born with, getting sufficient antioxidants can actually help your body overcome any handicaps you may have inherited. You see, antioxidants have to ability to control gene behavior; they have the ability to actually turn good genes on and bad ones off!
To learn more about how antioxidants control gene behavior,
see my page on Antioxidant Facts.
Learn more about oxidative stress at my page on Free Radicals
To learn more about the basics on antioxidants, see these pages:
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