Free radicals are everywhere, attacking from within and without.
They can result from the pollution and diesel exhaust you breathe in when you step outside, from smoking or drinking alcohol, or due to the stress obesity puts on your body.
And they cause what’s known as “oxidative stress.”
Imagine oxidative stress as rust eating away at a piece of iron. Rain works like a free radical enabling that deterioration.
Yep, that sort of thing is happening to you now at an accelerated pace in your body, thanks to free radical exposure by outside forces.
Unfortunately, oxidative stress causes premature aging and the very act of aging makes it harder and harder to defend against this free radical damage.
Now, a new study from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh is demonstrating that the free radical danger is even greater than we ever knew…
Shorter telomeres and cellular aging
At the end of every chromosome in your body are protective tips called telomeres. Telomeres keep your chromosomes from deteriorating, working sort of like an aglet — the plastic tip on your shoelaces that keep the threads from unravelling.
But those telomeres have to be protected too — a job done by the enzyme, telomerase.
When you’re young, you have plenty of telomerase in your body, but as you get older you make less and less, and your telomeres begin to wear down… becoming shorter and accelerating cellular aging.
And there’s something else you need to know about those telomeres…
They’re made up of repeated segments of DNA that look like this 5′-TTAGGG-3′. What’s important out of all of that are those three Gs at the end: Three guanine bases that are sinkholes for oxidation.
They sit there on the ends of your telomeres, sucking up all of that oxidative stress caused by free radicals, a fact that made the Pittsburgh team wonder if free radical damage could actually be shortening telomeres, damaging DNA and contributing to aging.
Smoking gun proof
To find out for sure, the team used a special light-activated molecule that latches onto the telomere and delivers localized free radicals on command.
The researchers repeatedly exposed cells to this targeted oxidation procedure, mimicking conditions of environmental oxidative stress and inflammation, and, as expected, they saw the telomeres break and shorten with each cell division — despite repair efforts by the telomere lengthening enzyme telomerase.
As the DNA repair machinery tried to fix the broken telomeres, the ends of the chromosomes often fused together, destabilizing the DNA itself, and effectively untying that chromosomal shoelace to allow cellular aging free reign.
The researchers say this is the first smoking gun evidence that oxidative stress acts directly on telomeres to speed up cellular aging.
Fight back with free radical protection
But while that may all seem like bad news, it really isn’t… at least when you know how to promote your body’s own natural protection from the free radicals that cause oxidative stress in the first place.
The answer to the free radical problem is antioxidants — molecules that neutralize free radicals by giving them an electron to restore them to stability.
Vitamins C and E can help.
But one of the most powerful and most studied antioxidants in the world is resveratrol, which comes from the skin of red grapes and superfruits.
So, if you want to promote free radical protection, save your telomeres and stave off premature cellular aging coming at you from every angle, the answer is in the antioxidants.