What is Ageing?

Aging is not a simple business.

After all – if it were that simple – humankind would have already worked things out and average life expectancy would be around 200 years and rising.  Understanding why we age is a question that keeps some of the best scientific brains in the world fully occupied – and there is still no definitive answer.

Why do you need to know?

If your concern is looking good as you get older – you may wonder why you need to make your brain ache with ageing theory.

More and more scientific studies are discovering promising new skin care ingredients, warning us about dangerous lifestyle choices, focusing our attention on what to eat and drink for protection from premature aging.  Sometimes the theories seem to contradict one another or offer too many choices.

Simplified Theories of Ageing

  1. Free radical theory

The oldest (since 1956) and most well known and accepted theory of aging – most of us by now have heard of free radicals and the damage they do. The simple explanation of a free radical is a molecule with a free electron which then reacts with healthy molecules in a destructive way producing disease, cell aging and death.

You must have read lifestyle advice based on free radical theory – poor diet, alcohol, smoking, sun exposure – cause free radical build up in the body and result in ill health and premature aging. What you may not have known is that apart from the bad choices you make – just breathing in oxygen and generating energy to move or eat produces natural free radicals which are equally as bad for you.

What we all need is plenty of “free radical scavengers” – or as we now call them antioxidants – which include vitamin C, vitamin E, Betacarotene, green tea catechins and others.

Antioxidants are freely promoted in products like supplements and as anti aging ingredients in skin care based on this theory of aging.

  1. DNA and genetics

Based on the fact that we all have a pre-determined genetic tendency to function in certain ways including how and when we age. Research around this theory shows that genetics isn’t everything. In spite of DNA – rates of aging can still be greatly influenced by our lifestyle choices and by pollutants and toxins we encounter (as in the Free Radical Theory above) – these affect what is called “gene expression”.

  1. Rates of cell division or the Hayflick Theory

Named after the scientist who first outlined the theory in 1961 – Dr Hayflick. The suggestion is that human cells are limited in their ability to divide and reproduce themselves. Hayflick estimated that after 50 cell divisions they die leading to ill health, decay and eventually death. Longer life (anti aging) depends on slowing down the rate of cell division. The way we do this is largely through diet and lifestyle choices as described in the free radical theory before although some drug interventions are being studied.

One discover to emerge from this line of study is that over fed cells divide quicker and restricting calories extends life in lab experiments with mice. As a result calorie restriction (CR) has emerged as an anti aging programme in its own right closely connected to the Hayflick theory.

  1. Cross-linking or glycosylation

A relatively new (1990’s) theory which is becoming increasingly accepted with the work of Dr Robert H Lustig and others. Cross-linking theory is based on the damage to health caused by the presence of simple (added) sugars in the modern diet. Simple sugars bind to proteins in a process called Glycation which results in the formation of AGE’s (Advanced Glycation End Products). Resulting health problems include: Alzheimers, diabetes, cancer, sight loss, deafness and heart failure.

Fructose in the form of High Fructose Corn Syrup or HFCS emerges as the main villain in this theory largely because in many ways it acts as a toxin in the body and has ten times the glycation activity of glucose – the body’s main fuel source.

Glycation is also directly linked to collagen deterioration and skin aging.

Recommended antidotes to AGE’s include vitamin E, Alpha Lipoic Acid and flavonoids (plant chemicals in highly coloured fruit and vegetables) used in both diet and skin care.

  1. Mitochondrial decline

Mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells where energy is produced for everything we do, say and think in the form of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) which cannot be stored and has to be continually renewed.

The mitochondria make use of some essential nutrients to produce this energy including: CoQ10, Acetyl L Carnitine and B vitamins. Both mitochondria and ATP production decline with age and this is linked in part to free radical damage.

This theory of aging focuses on the need to protect and increase ATP production by repairing mitochondrial damage. Antioxidants play a part in limiting free radical damage but supplementation with the key nutrients needed to form ATP – in particular Acetyl L Carnitine, CoQ10 (idebenone) and CoQH (ubiquinone).

Summary – what matters?

Free radical damage is a common theme and the role of antioxidants is key. Focusing on lifestyle choices – boosting your diet with antioxidants (vitamin C, E, Betacarotene, green tea catechins, omega 3) and cutting out the damage from smoking, photoaging (UV) and alcohol will make a real difference to how well you age. Some supplements emerge as winners – CoQH (ubiquinone), Acetyl L Carnetine are two to focus on.

For the future – The movement is rightly focussing on sugar damage (from fructose in particular) as a significant cause of disease and premature aging. Cutting down on added sugar and eliminating fructose is something you can start doing now if you value your looks and health.


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