According to Dr. Denhem Harman, Professor Emeritus of the University of Nebraska, aging is caused by the process of Oxidation. We have all observed how a peeled apple turns brown or how an abandoned car corrodes over time. These are the results of oxidation. Rust is what happens to metal when they oxidize.
Human aging is similar to what happens to apples and metal in the presence of oxygen. All cells must have a source of energy to maintain life, and that source is oxygen. But oxygen is a double-edge sword. It maintains life, but at the same time it can be very destructive. If a person breathed pure oxygen for 2 days, instead of air that contains only 21% of oxygen, he would die because his lungs would be destroyed.
Dr. Harman’s research led him to prose his theory of aging in 1956. His theory suggests that aging is caused by free radical reactions and may be involved in the aging changes associated with disease and the intrinsic aging process. This theory is now widely accepted in the United States and, indeed, the entire world.
What are free radicals?
Free radicals are among the agents most capable of damaging your body. A free radical is a molecule that contains one or more unpaired electrons in the outer orbit. These molecules react easily with biologic structures, in the particular polyunsaturated membrane lipids, DNA and amino acids. Oxygen magnifies this reaction even more, frequently resulting in cell dysfunction or death.
When an oxygen molecule loses an electron, energy is produced. This process destabilizes the molecule, like untying the knot of a balloon, and letting it fly around. In its wild flight, the free electron (free radical) seeks to unite with another electron to stabilize itself. The free radical resolves its problem by stealing an electron from another molecule.
This causes a chain reaction resulting in a cellular chaos. The molecules strike furiously against each other in an effort to stabilize themselves, further destabilizing other molecules within the cells. Once the process begins, it is difficult to control. It is hard to imagine that such devastation begins in these tiny little molecules that live only a few thousandths of a second. Yet every chromosome in our body receives some ten thousand free radicals hits daily.
Free radicals can also interrupt other processes in enzymes and cells, such as hormonal regulation and the development of the proteins necessary to regulate nerves, muscles, skin and hair. The destructive capacity of the free radicals is enormous, especially because they alter genetic codes. A single free radical can damage a million or more molecules.
Free radicals cause many diseases, including:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- High blood pressure
- Parkinson’s disease
- Downs’s syndrome
- Memory loss
- Brain deficiencies
- Cystic fibrosis
Without a doubt, free radicals sabotage good health and increase aging. Recent research has demonstrated that environmental and nutritional factors including pollutants, radiation pesticides, various medications, contaminated water and deep fried foods, as well as physical stress, exhibit the ability to produce enormous amounts of free radicals resulting in tissue injury, disease and aging.