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Forever young?

April 30th, 2014


Forever young

Birth, aging, sickness and death are only natural and unavoidable, but we might not be exactly looking forward to aging and dying. As for birth, there isn’t much we can do about our own birth as that was way in the past.

Anti-oxidant and free radicals play an important role in the aging process, which sometimes leads to death. Since people like to avoid aging (which they can’t – the best is only delaying it) there are many products in the market, such as tea, coffee, supplementary pills and even skincare, which claim to contain anti-oxidants. If they really worked, we would have seen 100-year-old grannies walking around looking like 30-year-olds, or mother and daughter looking the same age. Or we might even live 200 years! That would be rather scary, wouldn’t it?

If you don’t think that’s weird, think of your great grandfather living with laptops, internet and mobile phones. He would have been amazed to see his great grandchildren on computer screen even if he’s in another country. And if he hears the news about space travelling, all the zeros in the price would have shocked him. Things used to cost so much less in his days!  Having known these fact, do you really want to live for 200 years or live only close to 80 or 90 but strong and healthy !

Anti-oxidants and free radicals are actually a delicate matter and depend on the person. When we breathe in oxygen, it reacts to the foods that we’ve consumed, such as sugar, protein or fatty acid to create energy. The chemical reactions inside the cells that combine foods and oxygen to create energy is called metabolism. When oxygen combines with glucose in the cells, it generates not only energy but also free radicals. Other factors that aggravate free radicals include UV rays, heat, smoking and some toxins in the environment.

Anti-oxidants, as the name suggests, tries to prevent oxidation so that free radicals do not damage your cells too much. If free radicals are fire, anti-oxidants are firefighters.

The most well-known anti-oxidants that we hear are vitamin B, vitamin E, beta-carotene and selenium, which are abundant in vegetables. Polyphenol is also another anti-oxidant commonly found in vegetables, fruits, teas, coffee, chocolate and wine.  Fish oil, CoQ10 and ALA are also well known anti-oxidants.

The fire-firefighter relationship can be good or bad. The free radicals cause bad cholesterol to collect on the wall of our blood vessels, which in turn causes them to harden. Hardened blood vessels are a natural part of the aging process, although it cannot be seen like wrinkles and blemishes on the skin

The body has its own firefighter – white blood cell. Our white blood cells help destroy bacteria or viruses that will damage the body, reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. It also helps the body grow.

The firefighters aren’t always the good guys. There are reports that say too much of these “firefighters” can make the fire spread even more. Beta-carotene can increase the chance of lung cancer in smoking people and those who inhale the smoke, more than those who do not get extra beta-carotene. Another report says that too much vitamin B can cause more free radicals. Recently, a study found that too much vitamin B and vitamin E can even cause heart diseases. For these reasons, cancer patients are not recommended to take vitamin C or anti-oxidants during chemotherapy or treatment by conventional oncologist.

Just because the studies do not say anti-oxidants and vitamins can prevent diseases, it doesn’t mean we have to stop eating food that naturally has these nutrients. Anti-oxidants are of the right level in naturally found food while supplementary pills might offer higher dose. Our ancestors were programmed to eat fruits and vegetables before they learned to hunt animals and eat their fat.

Studies have definitely shown that eating fruits and vegetables can reduce chances of chronic diseases and many type of cancers. You should also avoid direct sunlight and smoking if you do not want cancer.

Most importantly, do everything with a clear conscience. A patient of mine complained about the expenses of balloon angioplasty of the coronary artery, which saved her life, but later she paid even more to fight her wrinkles and was even proud of it!

So I learned that people are more scared of aging and dying.


Prof Nithi Mahanonda is consultant cardiologist and interventionist, Perfect Heart Institute.


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