The Free-Radical Theory of Aging & My Favorite Antioxidant

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There are many different theories of how and why we age. The Free-Radical Theory of Aging, first proposed by Denham Harman in the 1950s, is just one of them. While probably not the only valid theory, there is strong evidence to suggest it is at least a significant player in the aging process and therefore warrants discussion in any anti-aging, age management and hormonal optimization program.

In short, the Free-Radical Theory of Aging states that humans (and other organisms) age because cells accumulate free radical damage over time. Free Radicals are nasty little byproducts of chemical reactions using oxygen in the body. They are deficient in energy so they “steal” energy from other cells, damaging them in the process. As cells, and more specifically cellular DNA, are damaged, your body functions less efficiently and robustly and aging speeds up.

Here’s where antioxidants come in. Your body uses antioxidants to neutralize the damaging free radicals and render them harmless. So the more antioxidant activity you have in your body, the less free radicals can damage cells, tissues and organs, lower immunity, and cause you to age at an accelerated rate. This is true for your skin, heart, muscles, sex organs and brain. So, the quality, and quantity, of your body’s antioxidants are of extreme importance in order for you to fight the accelerated aging caused by free radical damage.

Enter Alpha-Lipoic Acid. My Favorite Antioxidant.

Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is regarded by many scientists as the most powerful antioxidant known. Originally considered a vitamin, researchers later discovered that the body is able to synthesize limited amounts of ALA from other nutrients. It was discovered in 1951 by Dr. Lester Reed and his colleagues at the University of Texas. Thanks Lester and friends!

Alpha-lipoic acid is the most versatile antioxidant known, mainly because it is both water AND fat soluble. This means it can make its way to tissues that are mainly fat (like brain and nervous system cells) as well as those tissues that are mainly water (heart, muscles, skin). So alpha-lipoic acid is doing its job of being a free radical scavenger in basically every system in your body, granted that you have enough of it.

In addition to the specific benefits above, there are clinical studies suggesting that alpha-lipoic acid is a powerful ‘potentiator’ – an antioxidant that helps the body better use many other valuable proteins, vitamins and nutrients. Among those beneficial nutrients that ALA seems to enhance are insulin (an important hormone), creatine (an energy metabolizer), vitamins C and E, and all the B vitamins, including folic acid.

Most antioxidants (for example vitamins C and E) are used up as they neutralize free radicals. But research suggests that alpha-lipoic acid has the unique ability of regenerating these other antioxidants and making them useful again. How cool is that?

How Alpha-Lipoic Acid Benefits Your Anti-Aging Program

Alpha-lipoic acid has been extensively researched for its applications in insulin and blood sugar metabolism. ALA enhances your body’s sensitivity to insulin. This is excellent for your anti-aging and hormonal optimization program. Why? Because when your brain releases Human Grown Hormone (HGH) or you inject Human Growth Hormone, it is converted by your liver to Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 gets its name because it attaches to the same receptor sites on cells as insulin, another hormone. Since alpha-lipoic acid increases insulin sensitivity, less insulin is needed to do its job and therefore more Human Grown Hormone can attach to cell receptors and do its job: helping keep you young and vigorous with decreased body fat, thicker skin and more energy. So alpha-lipoic acid helps if you are trying to burn fat or gain some healthy muscle mass. It also works with creatine to promote energy and boost your general metabolic rate, also helping with fat burning.

Alpha-lipoic acid has also been studied for its effects on the aging process and in the prevention of wrinkling by protecting collagen in the skin. ALA diminishes fine lines, gives skin a healthy glow, and boosts levels of other antioxidants, such as vitamin C.

Alpha-lipoic acid has been shown to inhibit memory loss associated with aging, and there is promising research that suggests alpha-lipoic acid may help preserve brain functioning at the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

ALA Prevents the formation of cataracts in animals, and may do the same in humans. Because alpha-lipoic acid enhances the potency of vitamins C and E, both vitamins that protect eye health, it gives the body an extra boost in protecting the eye against damage from ultraviolet rays.

ALA may also prevent cancer, according to many preliminary studies. Since antioxidants prevent the growth of abnormal body tissues, scientists reason that alpha-lipoic acid is likely to have far-reaching possibilities as a cancer preventative.

How To Get Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Alpha-lipoic acid is found in red meat, organ meats (such as liver), and yeast, particularly brewer’s yeast. Alpha-lipoic acid supplements are available in capsule form. There aren’t any established doses for alpha-lipoic acid. For general anti-aging purposes and antioxidant support, what I recommend my anti-aging, age management and hormonal optimization clients is 100-300 mg/day of a pharmaceutical-grade alpha-lipoic acid.

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