Does oxygen cause aging is one of the foreboding questions on health. Oxygen is the second most abundant gas behind Nitrogen. The gas serves as a live-giving element to animals and humans that need oxygen to breathe. Their blood cells need oxygen to combust nutrients and food to survive. However, there’s some part of oxygen or an issue that links it to aging.
Does Oxygen cause aging?
There are many studies and ongoing research on the role of oxygen in the aging process. Here are some of the researches/facts:
- Oxygen cause aging to some extent through metabolism. The body’s use of oxygen for metabolism produces a byproduct called Reactive Oxygen Species or ROS. Such ROS include:
- Perhydroxyl radicals
- Perhydroxyl radicals
- Singlet oxygen
- According to a study (1), the accumulation of ROS molecules constitutes one of the causes of brain deterioration and thus aging.
- White blood cells produce oxidative reactions that can benefit your health. For instance, white blood cells release reactive oxygen species to neutralize particles and kill bacteria. On the other hand, if the ROS is not controlled, free radicals can damage cell membranes, DNA, and proteins.
- Oxygen is normally turned into free radicals through the body’s metabolism. During your body’s metabolism, the Oxygen is split and then the energy is released. To become stable, the oxygen radical or oxygen atom with free single oxygen steals or looks for electrons from various sources. When it bonds with others, it results in harmful chemicals such as the superoxide anion radical (oxygen bonds with one electron) and hydrogen peroxide (bonds with two electrons)
What are free radicals and what are their effects?
Free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage cells and lead to aging and illness. These unstable atoms or oxygen molecules split and seek out electrons from other atoms from cells. When this continuous leads to oxidative stress as outlined in the free radicals theory in 1956. Many studies support the free radicals theory as observed in rats. There’s another observation that free radicals made in the mitochondria can cause mutations and thus cell damage.
Studies, researches, and theories linked free radicals to:
- Cataracts and vision-related disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease
- Age-related change in graying hair, skin elasticity loss, and hair texture.
- DNA damage
- Lipid peroxidation
What Are The Benefits of Free Radicals?
According to the researchers from the Karolinska Institutet of Swedish University, the fear of free radicals may have been exaggerated.
The journal of psychology cited that free radicals play an important role in causing the heart to beat correctly (1). The institute’s scientists/researchers explained that free radicals as generally dangerous are a myth. Professor Hakan Westerblad, who led the research, said that free radicals act as an essential signal substance in normal conditions but at high levels they can lead to diseases. The study also showed that when the cell mitochondria increase the free radicals’ productions, this can lead to stronger contractions of cells. On the other hand, when exposed to antioxidants (a part of the heart beta-adrenergic stimulation, the heart muscle cells disappeared.
After the ROS or free radicals gave beneficial effects (signaling), your body uses antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, E, glutathione, catalase, and glutathione to protect against the free radicals. The superoxide made in the mitochondria is degraded into hydrogen peroxide.
What Are The Sources of Free Radicals?
These free radicals include superoxide anion, peroxide, and hydroxyl radical. Free radicals can also be found in the followings:
- Tobacco smoke
- Heavy metals
- Transition metals
- Industrial solvents
- Paracetamol (1).
- Ionizing radiation (can turn oxygen found in oxygenated tissues) into oxygen radicals
How Free Radicals Are Counteracted?
Because an excess in free radicals can lead to bad health effects some antioxidants found in foods and supplements are recommended.
The following are the two categories of antioxidants – enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidants.
- Enzymatic antioxidants
- Catalase is found in eukaryotic cells’ peroxisomes, it reduces hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen.
- Glutathione peroxidase degrades hydrogen peroxide and organic peroxides into alcohols and thus reducing toxic oxidants.
- Superoxide dismutases (SOD) convert superoxides into oxygen and hydrogen peroxide.
- Non-enzymatic antioxidants
- Vitamin C is a water-soluble antioxidant that can recycle vitamin E radicals and in other conditions acts as a pro-oxidant
- Vitamin E protects the membranes from the effects of oxidative damage. It also traps peroxy radicals found in cellular membranes.
- Glutathione constitutes a tripeptide or glutamyl-cysteinyl-glycine that serves as an important defense against cellular oxidative damage.
The Bottom Line
In moderation, free radicals are an essential part of the body’s metabolism and heart muscle contraction as shown by the Swedish research. Oxygen is needed by your body to survive and carry out life-giving metabolism and chemical. On the other hand, when free radicals are produced at very high levels or your body is constantly exposed to free radicals, you may get a disease or cell damage.
The key is moderation. Be wary of claims by antioxidant supplements and pills found on the internet as they claim of panacea or “cure it all”. Too many antioxidants can be toxic and bad for your health. There’s no such panacea pill. Does, oxygen cause aging? Not directly but in some other way such as when oxygen is transformed into free radicals and such accumulated and were not further degraded into less harmful chemicals – thus aging may ensue.