By Dr. Nabil El-Hag, PhD

Defying the Biology of Aging – 4th in a series

The human body is 99.9% gas and mineral elements. Despite our seemingly solid exterior, we are just bags of hot air. There are approximately 37.6 trillion cells in our body: a number 30 times greater than all the stars in our galaxy. Each cell performs all the activities that the whole body performs, a process collectively known as metabolism. Oxygen fuels our metabolism. It keeps us and our cells alive. The average adult takes about 8 million breaths per year, generating 37,000 billion,billion chemical reactions every second. This energy exchange begins at conception and doesn’t stop until we draw our last breath. Oxygen is life-giving, but it is also dangerous.

Oxygen fuels energy transfer in a process called the ATP cycle. This tightly choreographed chemical process provides the energy for all molecular activity, and is efficient 95% of the time. The remaining 5%, rogue electrons fall out of line, creating unstable molecules called free radicals. Missing an electron from their outer shell, they are eager to steal electrons from other cells in your body, resulting in oxidative stress. Unchecked, this results in diseases, like cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. Free radicals are silent killers created by natural processes gone awry. Environmental factors, like cigarette smoke, industrial pollutants, chemical additives, and ultraviolet


light can also muck up our metabolic pathways resulting in more free radicals. So, why aren’t we all sick or dead?

Antioxidants are nature’s protection against cell damage. Like free radicals, antioxidants are unstable. Unlike free radicals, they won’t pair up with just any cell. They seek out free radicals. If there are no rogue molecules to pair up with, they just roam through the body on patrol. Antioxidants are the avengers of oxidative stress. Our bodies produce some naturally and others are supplied in our diet. So why do we need to worry about oxidative stress?

Antioxidant production is robust when we are young and exposure to environmental toxins is usually more limited. A young body doesn’t have time to accrue significant cell damage. With age, bad lifestyle choices, increased energy demands, environmental exposure, and a slowing of our bodies production of antioxidants, free radical damage accumulates. Eventually this damage can reach our DNA, resulting in the reproduction of diseased cells.

Luckily, we can do much to protect ourselves. We can make good lifestyle choices. We can avoid environmental factors that exacerbate free radical damage. And we can supplement naturally occurring antioxidants so that there is an ample supply of these mighty warriors available to battle the chemical instability associated with living and breathing.

Many antioxidants, including Vitamins C and E, beta carotene, selenium and zinc can be supplied by a healthy diet. However, it is impossible to get an adequate supply of these through diet. To get the recommended 500 IU Vitamin E from food alone each day, you would have to eat more than 100 pounds of broiled liver or 125 tablespoons of peanut oil. Not recommended! This challenge is further magnified with age as digestion becomes less efficient. There are other antioxidants which are critically important to defying aging. Supplementation is tricky business.

Our dietary needs vary with activity and lifestyle factors and are different at any given stage. For example, the same woman has different needs when pregnant than when she is post-menopausal. A twenty-year-old athlete has different needs during competition than he does in retirement. So, I am going to share with you my current regimen and my rationale for choosing it. But remember, you will have to find your own antioxidant solution in your user manual!

For forty years, I have made the “Magnificent 5” antioxidants, my friends. They are Lipoic Acid, Glutathione, Co Q10, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E. They work as a team to keep the spark plugs of cellular activity clean. Individual antioxidants provide protection for specific types of cells. Some cells are water soluble; others are fat soluble. We need protective cover for both.

LIPOIC ACID is a fatty acid essential to the breakdown of sugar for energy. It helps rid the body of toxins and is beneficial in protecting against stroke, heart disease, and cataracts. It protects both the fat- and water-soluble portions of the cells. It has the unique capability of regenerating water-soluble Vitamin C and Glutathione, and helps in the production of fat soluble vitamin E. 

GLUTATHIONE, produced in the liver, is considered the master antioxidant. Multifaceted, and found in every cell in the body, it is the most abundant antioxidant. After forty, our natural production of Glutathione declines significantly. At any age, low levels of Glutathione have been linked to premature aging and the onset of diseases. Glutathione is instrumental in ridding the body of the toxins and pollutants that accumulate in the liver and is vital in building a strong immune system. 

CoQ10 is considered a cellular spark plug. It protects the integrity and functionality of cell membranes. Present in every cell, it is concentrated in the mitochondria, the cell’s energy center. It is particularly abundant in our most vital and hardest working organs like the heart, brain, kidney, and liver. Our heart muscle will beat 2.5 billion times in our lifetime. Keeping it well-oiled and pumping is Co-Q10’s full time job. In fact, heart muscle biopsies in 50-75% of patients with heart disease show CoQ10 deficiencies. CoQ10 works synergistically with Vitamin E. It also helps rejuvenate brain cells, important in protecting against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. 

Vitamin E is the primary fat -soluble antioxidant and must be obtained from food or supplements. Vitamin E uniquely maneuvers through the fatty parts of the cell membrane, which are inaccessible to the other network antioxidants. Comparatively, Vitamin E is present in tiny amounts, but is one of the most researched. It has been shown to help prevent heart disease, prostate cancer and to slow the progression of Alzheimer disease. Vitamin E also protects the skin from sun damage, the major cause of wrinkles and skin cancer. 

Vitamin C does not need an introduction and has been recognized for its powerful antioxidant role for a very long time. It plays an essential role in strengthening the immune system and is often recommended as a treatment for the common cold. Surprisingly, human beings are one of the few animals that does not produce Vitamin C, which is why it must be supplied by food or supplements. Studies show that people who take Vitamin C supplements live a healthier, longer life. It is the. hub of the antioxidant network, because of its ability to link fat soluble to water soluble antioxidants. Together with Lipoic acid, Vitamin C can generate Vitamin E. Because its chemical structure is like glucose, Vitamin C is able to easily enter our cells and clean up free radical damage.

I have an extremely rigorous training regimen. Athletes produce 20% more free radicals than their more docile counterparts. And older people accrue a lot of oxidative damage. So, at 75 years old, amping up the availability of antioxidants in my system helps fend off free radical damage aggressively!

During my bout with Lyme disease 40 years ago, I began using an intravenous antioxidant supplement regimen to boost my immune system. I have maintained it ever since. I go to an infusion center monthly to get an intravenous cocktail composed of the Magnificent Five. This supplies my antioxidant needs in a highly absorbable and efficient manner. The Magnificent Five are certainly not the only reason I enjoy remarkable vitality, but they have helped keep free radical damage at bay.

As I’ve said before, there is no one thing that will ensure your good health. Living well and living longer requires a multifaceted effort. There are no quick fixes. We are fighting our predetermined destiny. After all, no one gets out alive.

In defying the biology of aging, I have a few more tricks up my sleeve. In my next article, you’ll learn about amino acids, the building blocks of life. Until then, be well and stay healthy!


Nabil El-Hag with Joanie Vilcheck

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