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 Interviews with Nutritional Experts: The Free-Radical Theory of Aging: Part II - Calorie restriction, Free Radicals and New Research  
Interview with Dr. Denham Harman
   as interviewed by Richard A. Passwater PhD

Dept. MEM-WF
American Aging Association
2129 Providence Avenue
Chester, PA 19013

Membership dues to the American Aging Association are $35 per year; members receive AGE NEWS four times per year. Subscription to the journal is $35 per year for non-members and $25 per year for members.

Passwater: The American Aging Association has done a great job so far, and if you receive the funds, I know you will do more. Have you accomplished what you set out to do in 1970?

Harman: I was a member of a small group that started the American Aging Association. The organizers started the American Aging Association because they felt that more effort should be devoted to basic biomedical aging. I can't emphasize enough the need to do basic aging research and the benefits that it will bring. The American Aging Association has promoted this area of research and has continued to grow until now it is the largest group involved in this research area.

Our annual meeting serves to bring together scientists involved in biomedical aging research and provides an opportunity for the media, and in turn, the general public, to be informed of progress in this area. Several awards are presented at the meeting. These include the Distinguished Achievement Award, the Research Award, and the Excellence in Journalism Award.

The American Aging Association sponsored formation of the American College of Clinical Gerontology in 1986 in order to more effectively apply the growing knowledge of aging to the problem of increasing the functional life span.

Formation of the International Association of Biomedical Gerontology was sponsored in 1985 to help bring together scientists around the world involved in basic biomedical research. The Sixth Congress of the International Association of Biomedical Gerontology will be held in August 1995 in Tokyo.

Passwater: There is no point in doing research if you can't bring the findings to the public and the physicians who need to incorporate these findings into the care of their patients.

You were to be the father of this theory, you nourished it, brought it to people's attention, beat people over the head with it to get them to expand the research, you help form the American Aging Association, and now you are raising funds to support more research. I hope people appreciate all of your efforts.

Harman: I hope they continue to support increased funding for basic biomedical aging research. I have testified before Congressional committees in support of more money for this research field. It is very difficult to get individuals to understand that cancer or a heart attack is caused by the aging process and that if we slow this process the disorders that kill us will be put off in time so that we will have longer functional life spans. Funding is increasing slowly -- it is now about 25 million dollars per year, very little in comparison to the billions spent on the obvious secondary disorders.

Passwater: In 1970 or 1971 you estimated that based on your research and what was happening that antioxidants might add as much 15 years to the typical lifespan. Today would you still say proper antioxidant nurture could add 15 years to the typical lifespan?

Harman: I am not sure because the average life expectancy has improved during that time. In the early 1970s, we were working with mice and it seemed reasonable that it might be possible to increase the average life expectancy of man by around 15 years with the antioxidants. Average life expectancy in the United States has now reached about 75 years. Since the maximum value for the average life expectancy at birth is about 85 years, it is now likely that antioxidants may increase life expectancy an additional five to seven years.

It would also help to increase life expectancy if people would decrease their caloric intake somewhat.

Passwater: Well, 50 million Americans are taking antioxidant supplements and that's largely why our average life span is increasing. Many people have already put research into practice. The heart disease death rate has also decreased -- there are many factors involved, but an important factor is that so many Americans have started taking antioxidant supplements over the last thirty years.

Your point is well taken that the average life span has increased. But, still, 30 years ago when you made that statement there was a shorter average lifespan so you might have been correct saying 10 to 15 years.

Harman: Yes, at that time it might have been true. Today, though, it is more likely to be around five to seven years. I am very hopeful that the increase will be a great deal greater. The field of biomedical aging research is expanding rapidly, particularly since the discovery of superoxide dismutase by Drs. McCord and Fridovich in 1969, and may lead to practical measures to slow the biological clock

Passwater: Well now we are zeroing in on getting antioxidants more efficiently into the mitochondria to control free-radical reactions in what appears to be a prime factor in our biological clocks. We can also reduce the amount of free radicals generated in the mitochondria by reducing the oxygen consumption needed to metabolize all the extra calories of food that we eat. The problem is to get people to eat fewer calories. That is a big problem!

Harman: That is education. People need to realize that there are foods which provide adequate nutrients but with fewer calories. The food industry is actively involved in this area. For example, they are making fat substitutes.

Passwater: Also, we can reduce the formation of AGEs by reducing food consumption and being optimally nourished with chromium. The on-going research is leading us to new and better antioxidants, as well as new basic discoveries. If people support the American Aging Association, we will speed the discovery process and better the lives of more people.

Dr. Harman, what supplements do you take?

Harman: I take 200 milligrams of vitamin E per day; ten milligrams of coenzyme Q-10 with each meal; one yeast tablet containing 50 micrograms of selenium twice a day, and I also take one multivitamin tablet.

There are other things involved in living a long life. These include keeping your weight down at a level compatible with a sense of well-being, getting a moderate amount of exercise, little or no smoking, and minimal alcohol. There is nothing new about these suggestions; they have come down to us from our ancestors.

Passwater: A lot of times, mother was right. Dr. Harman, your research has taken us for quite a journey into understanding our own biochemistry. You must feel good when you look back on it.

Harman: I am delighted to see the rapid progress being made in our understanding of the role of free-radical reactions in biological systems. From this research are coming measures that will increase our span of healthy productive life. I appreciate your efforts to keep the general public informed of these studies.

Passwater: Dr. Harman, thanks again for sharing your journey along your fascinating research that has already helped millions of people.

All rights, including electronic and print media, to this article are copyrighted to © Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D. and Whole Foods magazine (WFC Inc.).

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 About The Author
Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D. has been a research biochemist since 1959. His first areas of research was in the development of pharmaceuticals and analytical chemistry. His laboratory research led to his discovery of......moreRichard Passwater PhD
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