First things first: why do we age or become ill?
The answer is in our DNA. Emerging evidence points towards the shortening of the end part of our chromosomes, which is called telomere. Telomeres shorten each time our DNA duplicates (or replicates) but are subsequently repaired by an enzyme called telomerase. However, both the duplication and self-repair system are inbuilt in each cell. Therefore, the main cause of telomere shortening has been attributed to the action of free radicals. I’m sure you’ve heard about free radicals before. But what are they? They are not present in the atmosphere rather they are the enemy within. Free radicals are molecules which have one unpaired electron in any given orbit. Due to homeostasis, such unpaired molecules attempt to pair their free electron by ‘stealing’ one from a neighbouring molecule. After suffering the ‘theft’, the neighbouring molecule becomes a free radical itself and this triggers a chain reaction in which several free radicals are produced. This production stops when an electron is ‘stolen’ from a molecule that can no longer function without it, often causing the molecule to become dysfunctional or damaged. In the chain reaction triggered, different atomic structures can become cross-linked. For example, the cross-linking of fat and protein molecules leads to the development of wrinkles. This is why free radicals are associated with ageing and the development of many diseases.
To recap, shorter telomeres have been consistently associated with a number of chronic diseases and a shorter lifespan. Free radicals have an impact on telomeres’ length. So the tips you will find in this article are directly connected to lifestyle changes that have been shown to lengthen telomeres by reducing the action of free radicals.
1. Eat loads of fruit & veg
The good news is that we eat can help us remove free radicals! Antioxidants, which are found in fruit and vegetables, directly attach themselves to unpaired electrons and remove them from the body. This leads to fewer free radicals and therefore a cleaner body and a smaller chance to develop illnesses. A recent study has shown that people who ate a greater quantity of fruit and veg per day had a decreased change of developing cancer compared to people who ate a smaller quantity. For example, cranberries, blueberries, grapes and green leaf vegetables are renowned for their antioxidant properties.
2. Do some moderate exercise
When it comes to exercise, the saying everything in moderation truly applies! Intense exercise increases the oxygen consumption from 10 to 20 times more than when we are not exercising. This leads to an increase in the production of free radicals and can therefore cause damage to muscle and other tissue. Therefore, moderate exercise is preferable as it has been shown to increase general wellbeing. Research also indicates that the key is in exercising regularly as the body adapts to the demands of exercise. Regular exercise boosts the antioxidant defense system. Including a 30 minute walk in your daily routine will do the trick.
3. Drink filtered water
Filters remove bacteria, lead, toxins and chlorine from the water, which have been shown to be highly dangerous. This is important because bacteria could lead to infection and lead to poisoning. However, adding chlorine to drinking water is even more dangerous as it triggers mechanisms that produce free radicals in the body and this has been shown to be carcinogenic. The best type of drinking water is spring water, but this might not be easy to get hold of in this day and age. So the best option is to drink filtered water which retains most of the minerals whilst impurities that are dangerous for the body are filtered out.
4. Limit alcohol intake
Research has shown that whilst drinking one or two glasses of red wine can have moderate benefits on the body thanks to the antioxidants it contains, any alcohol consumption beyond that triggers the activity of free radicals which can lead to the development of a number of chronic diseases such as stroke and liver disease. This is due to the fact that oxidant stress caused by alcohol consumption continues in the body weeks after consumption has stopped. Binge drinking has been found to be particularly damaging to the body.
5. Avoid/Quit smoking
This tip might sound a bit extreme and easier said than done but tobacco contains several oxidants, substances which generate reactions with oxygen and whose byproduct is free radicals. Unless I mention some numbers, you might not be able to quantify the damage that smoke causes. Each cigarette puff contains about 100 trillion free radicals which slowly but surely damage your lung tissue and increase the chance of developing many types of cancer and various illnesses. If you count how many puffs in a cigarette and multiply that by the number of cigarettes you smoke per day and by the number of days in a year, the damage that you are exposing your body too becomes immeasurable.
6. Get a good night sleep
During slow wave sleep, the metabolic rate of the brain and cerebral blood flow decrease by about 25% compared to wakefulness levels. This results in a reduced production of oxygen byproducts which allows the existing free radicals to clear. Consequently, lack of sleep causes the build-up of free radicals leading to cell damage. For some suggestions on how to get a good night sleep, you can read another article.
I hope that you will treasure these tips and start your fight against free radicals today in order to live a longer and healthier life!