Free Radical Theory of Aging
This is part of our ongoing The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging spotlight. Each week, we will be posting some of the great information that’s packed into our book, The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging.
Free Radical Theory of Aging
According to the free radical theory of aging, the normal oxidative reactions of metabolism that occur in all cells generate free radical electrons which can damage DNA, proteins and cell membranes, resulting in “aging” on the cellular level. Over time, as the number of individual cells that are experiencing “aging” increases, the entire body begins to show signs of the accumulation of damaged cells and proteins – “aging” in its more common sense.
It has long been known that melatonin is a scavenger of free radical electrons, as many studies have confirmed the ability of melatonin to protect DNA and membrane lipids from oxidative damage. Inside cells, melatonin stimulates the synthesis of glutathione (another antioxidant) while inhibiting the activity of oxidizing enzymes such as nitric oxide synthetase and lipoxygenase. A beneficial consequence of melatonin’s antioxidant actions is increased stability of membranes both inside and surrounding cells.
Melatonin doesn’t just help the body remove free radical electrons after they are formed – it also increases the efficiency of the metabolic reactions that produce free radical electrons, preventing the generation of free radicals in the first place. Melatonin may be even better at this than either vitamin C or vitamin E and in recent research published in the Journal of Neural Transmission melatonin was called “the premier molecule to protect cells from oxidative stress.”4 In short, melatonin lowers oxidative stress levels by slowing free radical production, stimulating the body’s natural antioxidant defense systems and itself capturing and deactivating free radicals.
Melatonin continues to promote antioxidant effects on the body even after it has been used up. When melatonin captures and deactivates a free radical electron, the melatonin molecule becomes changed into “secondary metabolites” that are as effective as the original melatonin molecule in capturing and deactivating free radical electrons – packing each individual melatonin molecule with plenty of excess capacity for protection against oxidative stress.
Additionally, melatonin is a strong supporter of a healthy and effective immune system. This simple compound is produced by the cells of the immune system and enhances cell-to-cell communication to ensure that challenges to the immune system are met quickly and efficiently.
Thus, in addition to restoring youthful sleep, melatonin can benefit our bodies as a strong antioxidant and immune system stimulant, supporting healthy aging in numerous ways.
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4. Sofic E, Rimpapa Z, Kundurovic Z, Sapcanin A, Tahirovic I, Rustembegovic A, Cao G. Antioxidant capacity of the neurohormone melatonin. J Neural Transm 2005;112:349-358.