According to Denham Harman, MD, PhD, the grandfather of the free radical theory and professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine, antioxidant supplements like vitamin E and C, and beta-carotene help ward off chronic illnesses and some aging effects (6). It's difficult, he says, to obtain enough antioxidants to slow aging from diet alone (2). Harman recommends you begin antioxidant fortification by age 27 (6).
Coronary heart disease, the term that encompasses all conditions that reduce blood supply to the heart including atherosclerosis, kills more Americans than any other ailment. Half to three-quarters of cardiac patients are reportedly lacking in coenzyme Q10, an enzyme and antioxidant usually found in abundance in the heart (7). It therefore makes sense to give coenzyme Q10 to people with hypertension, angina and similar heart problems. Jack Hall from the University of Texas in Austin did just that. After supplementing his congestive heart failure patients (already taking conventional CHF medication) with coenzyme Q10, 78 percent improved (8). The flavonoids in fruits and vegetables also protect you against heart attacks, reduce blood clot formation and prevent atherosclerosis (9).
Cancer, the second leading reason for death among Americans, is caused in large part by lifestyle habits including eating too few antioxidant-containing foods that protect you against this disease (10). Of the many hundreds of carotenoids found in our food--primarily fruits and vegetables--many are antioxidants (11). Many cancer-causing compounds not only increase your free radical load, but may deplete your antioxidant reserves.
Vegetables and fruits are also rich in the antioxidant vitamins C and E, nutrients that work together to protect you. Fat-soluble vitamin E focuses on your cell's membranes, a mostly lipid or fatty structure. Vitamin C, on the other hand concentrates on the water-based fluids floating between and inside cells. Vitamin C also spares vitamin E and other antioxidants (12).
Antioxidants are proving to not only prevent cancer, but cure it too. When Hans Stich of the BC Cancer Research Center in Vancouver, Canada gave vitamin A to fishermen with precancerous mouth tumors caused by chewing tobacco, he witnessed complete remission in half of his subjects after only six months (13).
Other aging diseases, like senile cataracts and glaucoma (14), are cultivated by free radicals and helped by antioxidants. Cigarette smoking, a free radical promoter, certainly contributes to lens opacity in cataract patients (15). Irwin Rosenberg, MD, professor and director of the USDA's Human Nutrition Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, says antioxidants like vitamins C and E, and beta-carotene delay cataract development (16).
A Clear Mind
There's no one reason for senility. A distinct mental or physical condition may be responsible or it could be the side effects of medication. Maintaining an active interest in life, staying in touch with friends and family and remaining physically fit help older folks--and younger ones--remain sharp. Not surprising, free radicals have a hand in declining mental abilities also, in particular Alzheimer's disease.
Also consider how nutrient deficiencies affect your brain. Dr. Rosenberg says: "It is possible that some of the decline in cognitive function associated with aging is preventable or reversible with improved vitamin nutriture..." (17). The B vitamins seem especially important.