Scientists have known for over 50 years that human cells have a limited lifespan. In fact, cells without a limited lifespan are essentially cancer cells! So, while we will likely never achieve immortality, the last 50 years has also taught us quite a lot about aging and how to slow it down—and how to minimize the effects of aging on the inside and on the outside.
Aging—not too surprisingly—is related to some specific types of stress. The two types of stress that appear to speed up the signs and effect of aging are:
- Oxidative stress and
- Inflammatory stress
Oxidative stress is the normal result of the biochemical reactions whenever electrons are transferred—and this happens all the time in the mitochondria of every cell. The term “oxidative” refers to the involvement of oxygen in many of these reactions. The end-result of this electron transfer is energy production—so far, so good! During this transfer of electrons (known as the Electron Transport Chain or ETC), byproducts are formed. These byproducts are called “free radicals” because they have an unpaired electron—electrons are drawn to other electrons, so these free radicals are VERY reactive. Some oxidative stress is normal and even required for health, partly because of the production of energy and partly because these free radicals can be used in normal biochemical reactions. Each cell also has another set of biochemical reactions that soak up these free radicals—these are the natural antioxidant systems like glutathione, CoQ10, Vitamin C (which humans, unlike other mammals cannot make and needs to get from foods), Vitamin A and Vitamin E.
BUT, and this is a very big but…when there are too many free radicals produced (e.g. during inflammation) or when the natural antioxidant system is overwhelmed (e.g. with poor nutrition)then these free radicals can damage cell proteins, cells and organs—and this is how oxidative stress can speed up the signs and effects of aging.
Inflammation—as discussed in Diseaseless—is a normal process as well. But, just as with oxidative stress, when inflammatory stress spins out of control, cells and organs can be damaged and the signs and effects of aging can become much more obvious—and problematic.
Inflammation produces damage all on its own, but it also produces oxidative stress by increasing the numbers of free radicals in cells and by overwhelming the natural antioxidant systems. Also, the body uses more energy to try and lessen the inflammation—and thereby causes even more oxidative stress. It is nature’s vicious cycle.