Our body and flesh falls victim to the very molecule which brings us life: oxygen. Of course we could not live without oxygen. In the special energy factories of each muscle cell, called the mitochondria, we use it to burn fuel to give energy. But oxygen in the wrong place, or used in the wrong way, can age you fast.
For instance, in the presence of certain chemicals in the body, or ultraviolet light, collagen fibers in the skin can oxidize and become cross-linked, rather than remaining in orderly rows. In this way they lose their pliancy and you form wrinkles.
When your skin wrinkles, when rubber windscreen wipers harden and crack, and when the hide of an animal is turned into leather by a chemical process, what has taken place is cross-linking as a result of free radical damage which is a phenomenon that occurs in the presence of oxygen and appears to be central to the aging process in the whole body.
In effect cross-linking is simply a process in which undesirable bonds are formed in the presence of oxygen. These chemical bonds can be between proteins (as in the case of cross-linked collagen), lipids or nucleic acids which make up the cells' genetic material - the DNA and RNA. Some cross-linking is necessary in order to give your tissues strength and make them sturdy. But inappropriate cross-links which occur in the aging process only increase the risk of cancer, arteriosclerosis and a number of other degenerative diseases such as arthritis. As Johan Bjorksten, one of the world's most famous age-researchers who formulated the cross-linking theory of aging says, `many of these cross-linked molecules lead to agglomerates which cannot be broken down by any body enzyme, but will increase in the cell and gradually crowd out other constituents, thereby causing continued decline in the cell's activity and the ability to cope with stresses'. From an aesthetic point of view - how your skin looks - such a decline in cellular activity implies a slowing down of the reproductive process in the skin as well as the hardening and bunching together of the skin's supportive collagen which makes it prone to wrinkling and to sagging contours.
what causes cross-linking?
There are a number of powerful cross-linkers which have been implicated in the aging process in humans - chemicals or energy sources which increase the level of cross-linking and therefore the rate at which your body ages. They include ultraviolet light, acetaldehydes, ozone, ketones (which are found in the blood of diabetics and people on a high-protein carbohydrate-free slimming regime), heavy metal ions such as aluminum, lead and cadmium, X-rays and free radicals (highly reactive atoms or molecules which can form toxic peroxides that damage and destroy cells). Many common environmental influences contain chemicals which belong to this list.
Acetaldehyde occurs both in cigarette smoke and as a common urban air pollutant. It is a potent cross-linker. So is the aluminum which may be absorbed through regular use of some antiperspirants, and cadmium, a build up of which can occur in your body when you drink coffee regularly. Drinking alcohol spurs the production of acetaldehyde in your liver which can trigger further cross-linking, as can eating any kind of rancid oil or fat, since these react with radiation or form free radicals as a simple part of their metabolic breakdown in your body. Lying in the sun or on a tanning bed (no matter what kind of ultraviolet rays manufacturers tell you have been filtered out) may well be the single most dangerous practice of all to your skin. It damages the genetic materials of the skin cells, the collagen, and the lipids in the cell walls by causing them to undergo several types of free radical reactions including peroxidation and cross-linking.
aging and oxygen question
Oxygen plays an important positive part in protecting the body from age-related damage too. `Maximum oxygen consumption' is the way scientists measure your body's ability to transport and make use of oxygen for cell metabolism. As you get older this ability decreases at the rate of about 1 percent a year.
The lower your oxygen consumption the less vitality you have and the more susceptible you are to many illnesses. An aerobic exercise program followed regularly over a few weeks can recapture 40 years worth of oxygen capacity which has been lost through a sedentary way of life before.
Vitamin E supplements of 600-800 IU a day can increase the utilization of available oxygen by as much as 40 percent.
avoiding the cross-linkers
Before you even consider what kind of nutritional defense you might make use of to protect your body from the cross-linking process, start by eliminating as many of its known causes as you can from your life - like exposure to the sun when your body is unprotected by a sunscreen, cigarettes, drugs and alcohol. Then you are ready to consider how you can make use of what is known about the `cures for the random damage free radicals and cross-linkers cause'.
protection - the second line of defense
It is almost impossible to live in a twentieth century urban environment and avoid all these cross-linkers. So the second move in combating cellular aging is to consider incorporating into your diet fairly large quantities of substances which have antioxidant properties - substances which have an ability to protect the body's genetic materials, proteins, from age-related damage.
A great deal of research done in the past 30 years indicates that there are some very effective substances for doing this. According to many of the most respected age-researchers such as Bjorksten, Denham Harman, Al Tappel and others, eating properly and adding these substances to your diet can minimize the amount of free radical damage to your body. These `age retarders' are often called antioxidants because they have ways of combating damaging oxidative reactions caused by radiation, chemicals and free radicals. Some are substances which occur naturally in our foods, although you would need to take them in much larger quantities to make use of their anti-aging properties.
They include catechols which are found in bananas and potatoes, the phenolics - found in grapes - vitamins such as A, E, C and members of the B Complex - especially B12, pantothenic acid, B6, and the bioflavonoids which occur in the white soft inner skin or pith of the peel of citrus fruits - as well as beta carotene and some amino-acids such as cysteine (available in eggs), tyrosine and L-dopamine, plus the trace minerals zinc and selenium. Many age researchers now recommend taking fairly high quantities of the vitamins, minerals, food substances and amino-acid `age retarders' as protection against free radical damage and cross-linking.
stay away from the cross-linkers
- Don't smoke. Stay away from people who do, particularly if you are in an enclosed area or small room. Not only does the acetaldehyde cross-link with collagen, the benzopropyrene (another chemical in cigarette smoke) depletes your system of vitamin C, making it unavailable for the production of new healthy collagen and encouraging skin to wrinkle faster.
- Stay out of the sun unless your body is protected by a high potency sunscreen which filters out both UVA and UVB rays. Never allow your face to tan at all. Protect it with a total block when you are in the sun. (There are some excellent after-shave tinted moisturizers for men and gel make ups for women which give you the look of a healthy tan if you like without causing damage to skin - or harmless `instant tan' lotions).
- Beware of unsaturated fats. Not that your body doesn't need them, it does. But in small quantities only. Because polyunsaturates are so very unstable chemically, they easily become rancid (as do shell-less nuts which contain them incidentally). And rancid or highly processed lipids are dangerous. The best oil to use for cooking is cold pressed virgin olive oil, a monounsaturate which is remarkably stable. You can get other essential fatty acids from eating fish, shellfish, game, whole grains, avocados, nuts and seeds.
- Go easy on the alcohol. Better yet, give it up altogether. Not only does it trigger acetaldehyde production in your liver, it depletes your body's supplies of some of the most important nutritional 'protectors' against free radical damage and cross-linking vitamins C and B1. A glass of wine a day can aid digestion - but if you find you can't stop after a glass (and many people can't), then temperance is probably the best choice.
- Check on heavy metals. Consider having the presence of heavy metals in your body investigated. This can be done in a laboratory from a small sample of hair. An increasing number of doctors concerned with preventive care are using hair mineral analysis as a part of their diagnostic equipment. If high levels of heavy metals such as lead, aluminum, chromium, arsenic and so forth are found they can be gradually removed from the system by careful use of specific nutritional substances such as vitamin C, pectin - a form of fiber which occurs in good quantity in apples - and garlic oil.
- Banish deodorants. Avoid the use of antiperspirants containing aluminum salts which are absorbed through the skin.
- Give up drinking Coffee. Besides causing a build up of cadmium, the caffeine in coffee can cause other age-related changes.