Theories Of Aging
The Free Radical Theory
This now very famous theory of
aging was developed by Denham Harman MD at the University of
Nebraska in 1956. The term free radical describes any molecule
that has a free electron, and this property makes it react with
healthy molecules in a destructive way.
Because the free radical molecule
has an extra electron it creates an extra negative charge. This
unbalanced energy makes the free radical bind itself to another
balanced molecule as it tries to steal electrons. In so doing,
the balanced molecule becomes unbalanced and thus a free radical
itself. Perhaps a bit like bumper-cars crashing into each other
at the Fair?
It is known that diet, lifestyle,
drugs (e.g. tobacco and alcohol) and radiation etc., are all accelerators
of free radical production within the body.
However, there is also natural
production of free-radicals within the body. This is the result
of the production of energy, particularly from the mitochondria
(see the Mitochondrial Theory of Aging).
The simple process of eating, drinking and breathing forms free-radicals
from the energy production cycles, as the body produces the universal
energy molecule Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). Note; oxygen is
a potent free-radical producer.
Free radicals are known to attack
the structure of cell membranes, which then create metabolic waste
products (see the Membrane Theory of Aging). Such toxic accumulations
interfere with cell communication, disturb DNA, RNA and protein
synthesis, lower energy levels and generally impede vital chemical
Free radicals can however be transformed
by free-radical scavengers (otherwise known as anti-oxidants).
Particular anti-oxidants will bind to particular free radicals
and help to stabilize them.
Free radicals come in a hierarchy
(according to their potential for damage) with the hydroxyl-radical
and the superoxide-radical at the top of the list. It is
therefore necessary to take a cross-section of anti-oxidants in
order for the process of elimination of the free radicals to occur,
otherwise higher damage free radicals may be converted into a
greater number of lower damage free radicals.
Such a broad cross-section of anti-oxidants
includes substances such as beta carotene, vitamin C, grape seed extract, vitamin E
and possibly also stronger substances such as Hydergine, Melatonin and Vinpocetine.