A Radical Proposal; The Science of Staying Young; Special Editions; by Kathryn Brown; 6 Page(s)
You can drop cigarettes. Avoid alcohol. But there's one toxin you just can't dodge: oxygen. With every gulp of air, oxygen gives you life. Some of it, however, gets converted inside your cells into a radical molecule that can wreak havoc, degrading those same cells and others. A growing number of experts say this damage causes aging. They also think they may one day be able to fend off oxygen's ill effects and help us live a lot longer.
Scientists have long known that oxygen is capricious. As molecules go, it gets around, reacting with all kinds of things. Mostly, that's good. Oxygen combines with fats and carbohydrates, in a part of cells known as the mitochondrion, to churn out the energy that gets you through the day. But the conversion isn't perfect. A small amount of oxygen is regenerated in a nasty form called a free radical, or oxidant - the very critter that causes metal to rust. The oxidants careen about, binding to and disrupting the membranes, proteins, DNA and other cell structures that make your body work. Over time, this damage adds up, and the result just might be an older, frailer you.