Just like everything else in the universe, our body’s cells are made up of atoms and groups of atoms called molecules. Each cell is said to contain more than 100 trillion atoms, which by coincidence is approximately the number of cells in the body!
After we have fully digested our food, the excess energy in our body is stored as adenosine tri-phosphate (for simplicity let’s just call it by its abbreviation ATP), and the task of its production is primarily handed over to the mitochondria within our cells. If they are in good condition, and fed plenty of vitamins and nutrients, our mitochondria can remain very good at their job and can convert virtually the entire incoming glucose molecules into ATP. However, if they are not fit and well, they end up creating quite a lot of waste.
When oxygen interacts with this waste, our cells create what is known as free radicals. So, while oxygen is vital to all life, it can have a harmful effect on unhealthy cells (known as oxidative stress). The process goes something like this: the waste becomes oxidised, which creates free radicals – these attack the mitochondria and they are no longer able to turn glucose into ATP. Once the free radicals are done with damaging all the mitochondria (there are normally several hundred in each cell), they turn on the nucleus. As the nucleus holds the blueprint for the cell, the entire cell is damaged.
Free radicals are highly contagious, and often start a chain reaction that turns their neighbouring molecules into free radicals too. Free radicals eventually cause so much damage inside the cell that the mitochondria send a premature message to the nucleus, telling it to kill off the entire cell - and that’s what causes premature ageing. Free radicals can also be a direct cause of cancer, strokes and various illnesses of the brain.
One of the fundamental reasons why I don’t recommend lots of endurance exercise is that it can massively increase the levels of oxygen utilisation in the cells. This can then lead to the generation of free radicals that damage muscles and other tissues. In his book, The Low Carb Athlete (a great read if you are doing lots of sport and are still not convinced that you don’t need to CARB load) Ben Greenfield says, “When glucose is used to create energy, a high number of free radicals are produced. Free radicals are dangerous molecules that can damage normal cellular processes. The burning of fat for energy does not create this same cellular damage. In an athlete who is already creating a high number of damaging free radicals from exercise, further damage from high blood glucose levels becomes a nasty one-two combo”.
But it’s not all bad news. If the right antioxidants are present in our body, they interact with the free radicals and halt the chain reaction before too much damage is done. Fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds often contain several different types of antioxidants. The strongest antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids, beta-carotene and selenium, but as we have already learnt there are hundreds more.
In addition to making sure we eat plenty of colourful fruit and vegetables rich in antioxidants, there is something else we can do to constrain our free radicals. It’s to not rely on CARBS and other sugars as our main source of fuel. Remember what was said towards the beginning of the book – sugar is seen as a poison inside the body. One of the reasons for this is that glucose produces more oxygen interaction. If instead of constantly using glucose as our fuel, which free radicals feed off, we burn our own body fat, then it can only be a good thing. But of course, it’s a balancing act. To burn our stored fat, we need to intermittently fast, and by doing so we might end up consuming a smaller quantity of helpful antioxidants. This is why when we do intermittently fast, the quality of the small amounts of food that we consume is very important. No matter which type of intermittent fasting we undertake, if we break our fast with a pre- packaged meal or fast food, then we might do more harm than good. But if we end our fast with nuts, eggs, colourful fruit and vegetables and organic meat, we should be able to keep our free radicals under full control.
I mentioned intermittent fasting and its beneficial effects on slowing down the ageing process above. By now, I bet you can guess what goes hand-in-hand with fasting. What can prevent cancer and inflammation and of course radically prolong the onset of ageing? It’s moving our body into a state of ketogenic metabolism as often as possible.
Dr James DiNicolantonio
What causes ageing?
Basically, ageing is an accumulation of damage, where our body’s repair mechanisms can’t keep up with that damage. And we start developing what are called senescent cells, some people call them zombie cells, which are basically cells that our body has a difficult time of getting rid of and can secrete inflammatory substances that damage us. One of the only substances that I know that can break down these senescent cells are called senolytics, you find these in ECGC in green tea and also physiogen in strawberries, those are two comments that are shown to break down those senescent cells. So, again, ageing is this slow accumulation of oxidative stress and damage, and your repair mechanisms aren’t able to keep up with that damage.