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Damage from Free Radicals may not Cause Aging

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

The cause of aging has always been a subject of dispute. McGill University researchers are challenging the notion that oxidative stress from free radical damage in the body causes aging.

The scientists question the idea that oxidative stress from free radicals is related to aging, finding that some organisms live longer when their ability to clear free radicals from the body is removed.

Hekimi, McGill's Strathcona Chair of Zoology and Robert Archibald & Catherine Louise Campbell Chair in Developmental Biology says, It is true that the more an organism appears aged, whether in terms of disease, or appearance or anything you care to measure, the more it seems to be suffering from oxidative stress."

Previous trials have not shown that we can slow the aging process by taking large doses of antioxidant vitamins like Vitamin E. The new study from McGill also shows that antioxidants do not slow aging.

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Hekimi says free radicals are not good for us because they damage the body. "However, they do not appear to be responsible for aging."

Hekimi explains, "The problem with the theory is that it's been based purely on correlative data, on the weight of evidence. This has really entrenched the theory because people think correlation is causation. But now this theory really is in the way of progress."

Hekimi and postdoctoral fellow Jeremy Van Raamsdonk conducted studies on mutant Caenorhabditis elegans worms. They disabled five genes responsible for clearing free radicals in the worms.

They observed that when the genes, known as superoxide dismutases (SODS) were disabled, the lifespan of one worm actually increased. The effect seen is in opposition to some research that suggests oxidative stress from free radicals is the reason we age.

The study concludes that taking antioxidant vitamins to fight free radicals may be no help when it comes to the fight against aging.