Everything You Can Do About Free Radicals and the Natural Aging Process

Have you ever wondered, why do some people age differently than others? After all, aging is an inevitable, completely natural process. How can it affect two people so differently? 

The answer may come down to free radicals, naturally-produced molecules that can potentially harm the cells. Over time, this damage gradually breaks down the cells’ ability to perform in the way they need to, and accelerates the aging process. While all people manufacture free radicals, certain environmental factors can also increase their presence, and therefore the harm they can potentially enact. 

Luckily, there are plenty of actions you can take to slow the effects of aging and keep your body as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Follow these steps to let your body age naturally, under limited duress from free radicals. 

What Are Free Radicals?

Most discussion of free radicals focuses on the mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cells. These organelles are present in almost every one of the trillions of cells in the body, and are in charge of converting nutrients from the food we eat into a fuel form that the cells can use. This explains their nickname -- the mitochondria literally power the cells. 

Free radicals arise as a byproduct of cellular respiration, the process undergone by the mitochondria to create cellular energy. Cellular respiration combines oxygen with other nutrients from digested food, but in the process, some oxygen molecules end up splitting into unstable forms called free radicals. 

The problem here is that these free radicals have one unpaired electron. A stable atom needs to have its outer shell full of electrons, and electrons need to exist in pairs. When free radicals are lacking this stability, they look to other sources to complete their final electron pair.

This instability is where problems arise. Free radicals will desperately search for an extra electron, and may find one by stealing one from the cellular membrane, or from genetic material or other proteins in the cell. In doing so, they damage these cellular structures and decrease the cell’s performance, even potentially causing the cell to die or even mutate. 

See, when a cell is being attacked by free radicals, it has to divert some of the energy it needs from its more essential, everyday tasks, and use it to fight off the free radicals and repair any of the damage they may have inflicted on the cell. As a result, cells will be less effective, less efficient, and less energized. 

What is the Free Radical Theory of Aging?

When free radicals continuously harm the body and its cells over a longer period of time, the process is called oxidative stress. The free radical theory of aging posits that oxidative stress leads to rapid aging. Since the mitochondria are present in almost every cell in the body (and therefore so are free radicals), this can be seen in everything from the structure of the skin to the function of the brain. 

Oxidative stress has been linked to forms of dementia, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, chronic inflammation, poor vision, wrinkles and other exterior signs of aging, diabetes, and genetic degenerative diseases. In essence, oxidative stress inflames the cells, and the longer this occurs, the more likely they are to become permanently damaged and potentially diseased. Alternatively, disease can occur as a result of cells’ decreased efficiency and activity. 

While free radicals primarily are a byproduct of cellular respiration, they can also be created based on certain environmental factors. Poor diet, smoking, excessive alcohol, stress, inactivity/lack of exercise, sun exposure, and air pollution can all influence the number of free radicals in the body and further cause injury to its cells. 

Unfortunately, there are no widely recognized symptoms of oxidative stress. You should assume, however, that your body produces at least some free radicals, especially if you fall into any of the environmental factors above, such as poor diet or a stressful lifestyle. These factors, along with age, make it harder for cells to fight off free radicals, and increase the damage they are able to incur. 

You cannot control your age, but lifestyle factors also play a massive role in the free radical theory of aging, and are therefore crucial to a healthy life. 

How Can Antioxidants Help?

Luckily, cells are not alone in the fight against free radicals. Enter: antioxidants.

Antioxidants are naturally-produced compounds that help the cells fight off free radicals. They do this by offering an electron to free radicals, therefore making them stable. Antioxidants are unique in that they can easily donate electrons to free radicals without sacrificing their own stability, neutralizing the free radical so it’s not dangerous anymore. As such, antioxidants are incredibly valuable to the cells and the body in general. 

Part of the reason we cannot combat free radicals as well when we get older is because our production of free radicals never slows, while our production of antioxidants does. Luckily, there are plenty of supplements and foods that are rich with antioxidants to help make sure we keep the level of antioxidants in the body nice and high. 

Vitamins C and E are antioxidants, as well as phytoestrogens (found in most plants/beans) and beta-carotene (see: carrots). Berries, citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, green tea, beans, ginger, and turmeric all also boast impressive antioxidant content. An antioxidant-rich diet that incorporates these types of foods and nutrients daily will make the body better prepared to fight off free radicals. 

How To Slow Aging

Aging is a natural process that will inevitably occur, but you can decelerate it by living a healthy lifestyle. 

The first step is diet. As mentioned above, a poor diet, or one that contains a lot of processed and fried foods, may increase the presence of free radicals. By eating antioxidant-rich foods, as well as lean protein, healthy (unsaturated) fats, and whole grains, you can better support your cells against aging and free radical damage.

In addition, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and stress reduction can all improve your health and lessen the effects of aging. Exercise and good sleep can actually help you accomplish stress reduction, making them extra important! You should aim to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, 3-5 times a week, and sleep around 7-9 hours each night. 

Finally, one of the first ways we notice that we are aging is through the appearance of our skin. Keep your skin healthy by wearing sunscreen whenever you are outside and moisturizing often. 

Take A Multivitamin

A multivitamin, such as the GoBiotix Complete Probiotic Multivitamin, provides you with  essential nutrients your body needs. 

Just with the natural production of antioxidants, the amount of vitamins and minerals your body is able to make decreases gradually over time. Therefore, most people can really benefit from an extra boost of these vital nutrients. 

GoBiotix Complete Probiotic Multivitamin contains: 

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Magnesium
  • Folate
  • Calcium
  • Iodine
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Biotin

Some of these nutrients, such as vitamin C and E, double as antioxidants, and will help the cells avoid free radical damage. 

This Complete Probiotic Multivitamin goes one step further and even adds probiotics to the mix. Probiotics introduce healthy bacteria into the gut, which promote better digestion and support a healthier immune system. Immune health is extra important as you get older, but immune function naturally declines with age, so probiotics can help bolster your immune health. 

All in all, if you want to make sure your body has all the nutrients you need, a multivitamin is the way to go. Talk to your doctor about including one in your diet. 

In Conclusion

Free radicals are a byproduct of cellular respiration. Because they are missing an electron pair, free radicals are unstable and can potentially harm the cells in their search for a final electron. This process of continual free radical damage is called oxidative stress, which can accelerate aging, decrease your energy levels, and overall negatively affect your health.

To fight aging, you can add a multivitamin to your diet, live a healthy lifestyle, and avoid any environmental stress factors to the best of your ability. 

Sure, aging is inevitable, but you can do so gradually and in a healthy manner by following the steps in this article!

Sources

Learn About the Free Radical Theory of Aging (verywellhealth.com)

Free radicals: How do they affect the body? (medicalnewstoday.com)

What Are Free Radicals? | Live Science

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