Free Radicals, Antioxidants And Ageing

It is said that a man grows from childhood to old age in his lifetime. This growing process can be referred to as ageing. Many theories and facts have been associated with ageing. However, the actual reason remains unknown. Many theories have been combined, many rejected; ageing still remains a mystery. A recent theory suggests that ageing is caused by oxidation reaction causing free radicals. With the advent of the importance of antioxidants which interrupt free radical activity, the role of free radicals in ageing and age related diseases are being widely explored.


In our body, as a result of natural metabolism and energy production, free radicals are generated. Free radicals are electron(s) hungry atoms or molecules that steal electron(s) from surrounding atoms and molecules, in the process converting them into free radicals, thus, giving rise to a detrimental chain reaction. This chain reaction is terminated when the electron hungry free radical is satisfied with electron(s) from an atom or molecule that can afford to lose electron(s) and not be converted into a free radical. In our body, these wanted electrons are grabbed either from proteins or DNA. The sharing of electrons between proteins and free radicals causes protein cross-linking. Such protein cross-linking causes tissue stiffening, disables hormones and enzymes and damages cell structure. Grabbed from DNA, genetic defects occur which give rise to cancer causing defective compounds.


Free radical reactions take place in our body countless number of times. To resist their harmful effects, the body has its own defense system and few enzymes and some nutrients. In addition to naturally generated free radicals, pollution, cigarette smoke, sunlight radiation, chemical drugs, alcohol, color additives, pesticide residues, chemicals in cosmetics, emotional stress etc cause supplementary free radical generation. From this itself, we can understand that how many free radical causing processes we are being subjected to in our daily life. These free radicals corrode the system and deteriorate its functions.


Antioxidants are compounds that break the free radical reaction by sacrificing electrons and then humbly existing without circulating more. How these antioxidants work is a two way process. They initially shatter the chain reaction of free radicals. This chain breaking is also called stabilization. Also antioxidants such as superoxide dimutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase prevent oxidation by reducing the rate of chain reaction. Antioxidants scavenge initiating radicals and destroy them before oxidation set into motion.


Synergy and balance is vital in antioxidant activity. For example Vitamin E prevents lipid peroxidation, but gets oxidized into damaging tocopheroxyl radical. This can be reversed by Vitamin C. Vitamin C regenerates Glutathione and Vitamin E. Glutathione and Vitamin E require selenium for their action. Hence, antioxidants must be taken in a balanced form else they won’t act appropriately.

Rich sources of antioxidants include sources of vitamin A, C and E. All green vegetables are abundant reservoirs of antioxidants. A recent study has found that green tea supplements antioxidants. It is obvious that we are being subjected to enormous free radical causing oxidation reactions in our day to day life. Hence, today’s lifestyle invites ageing at a faster pace. Take in more antioxidants; possibly reduce free radical causing substances, stay young longer.


Meren Mathews

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