Awareness of oxidative stress helps younger athletes realize big rewards as they age.
I have been an avid proponent of exercise for more than 45 years. I was an athlete in high school and did my first Olympic distance triathlon at the age of 22. I am now 58 years old. After more than 350 endurance events ranging from triathlons, to ultramarathons to marathons to rough water swims, I had hip replacement surgery in June of 2017. But that has not deterred me from continuing my exercise regimen. In fact, the physical challenges I experience only motivates me more to be better than ever! In fact, many of the benefits I realize today are directly related to how I lived my life when I was younger.
One hundred years ago, life expectancy was 42 years. Today, most of us will live twice as long. With age, limitations creep in, but also wisdom, an appreciation for our mortality and the desire to protect our good health.
Many theories of aging have been proposed and none entirely explain the aging process. However, free radical damage is considered the major cause of aging and the degenerative diseases associated with aging. In fact, according to Bruce Ames, PhD, one of the world's foremost anti-aging experts, the human cell is buffeted by 10,000 free radical hits a day. As you can imagine, this is something younger athletes don’t have to worry about. However, they should understand oxidative stress so they can take steps to minimize this damage over time.
Oxidation and Free Radical Damage
A fundamental key to maintaining an active lifestyle as you age is cellular renewal and minimizing the damage to cells over time. We all age. Some of us age better than others. Why? Studies have linked oxidative stress to aging. Simply stated, oxidation occurs when the body produces free radicals. The result is something akin to a machine rusting. And when this rusting is applied to humans (and not iron), it results in aging and age-related diseases.
Our bodies normally make free radicals as part of our daily metabolism. They occur as a result of food and environmental pollutions from everyday things, such as air, water and sun. As we age, we become more susceptible to the long-term effects of oxidative stress (or too many free radicals) and inflammation on the cellular level.
The process of oxidation is abundant and can actually help our bodies work properly. But this very same process can also cause us harm. The oxidizing process creates free radicals, which are electrically charged molecules. These free radicals interact with cells to create both good and bad results. For example, the immune system uses free radicals to help fight infection. However, when oxidized, LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) can be produced.
Oxidative stress is when the free radicals overwhelm the body’s antioxidant defense system causing cell damage. Free radicals have useful functions in the body, but are extremely unstable molecules. If left uncontrolled, they will destroy cells, enzymes and DNA, and ultimately accelerate the aging process. Moreover, free radicals can also contribute to the development of many age-related diseases including arthritis, cancer and heart disease.
Inflammation is caused by free radical damage. And the negative effects of free radicals are due to oxidation. How can this be addressed in a nutritional regimen? And can the younger athlete take steps to minimize oxidation as they age?
Antioxidants play a major role in combatting oxidative stress and can minimize the damage free radicals cause in the body. Some foods are high in antioxidant content. Certain foods contain phytonutrients that many health professionals believe are capable of unlocking the key to longevity.
Phytonutrients can also be referred to as health boosters. Plants produce these substances to protect themselves from bacteria and viruses. But they help the human body as well. They are highly nutritious, active compounds within plants that promote good health. Phytonutrients are members of the antioxidant family, and are responsible for ridding the body of free radicals, and, as a result, slowing the rusting, or the aging process. That's one of the reasons why a diet of high antioxidant foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, should be a priority for the young athlete and is the first defense against aging.
Some of the more commonly known antioxidants include vitamins A, C and E. There are other antioxidants that are available in both food and supplement form. However, it seems the focus of the younger athlete is on proteins, amino acids, creatine, and recovery supplements such as arginine and BCAAs. While these supplements are essential to optimal athletic performance for younger athletes and older athletes alike, antioxidants are often neglected.
Antioxidants to Combat Oxidation
The good news is that antioxidants really do help optimize a young athlete’s performance level and help older athletes remain active and vibrant as they age leading to an increased quality of life. There are several great antioxidants that are easily found in your local health food store. Six of my favorites are:
• Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA): Often called the universal antioxidant because it is both fat and water soluble. This means that it can effectively combat the oxidative effects of aging in all tissues of the body.
• CoQ10 (Ubiquinol): CoQ10 is one of those encompassing dietary supplements with both general health benefits (e.g., anti-aging) as well as specific health applications (e.g., cardiovascular health, healthy blood sugar, etc). It is a fundamental component in energy production, immune response and protection against damage by free radicals.
CoQ10 is part of the mitochondrial electron transport system and is synthesized in all cells. It is essential to the body’s production of energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This holds special importance for the heart, which is loaded with mitochondria and has the body’s highest concentration of CoQ10 because of the significant demands made upon it.
However, aging reduces access to CoQ10. Although it can be obtained from the diet (mainly from fatty fish, organ meats, and whole grains), as well as synthesized in small amounts, both of these routes decline with age. The body’s declining capacity to extract and assimilate CoQ10 in later years plays a role in the development of various cardiovascular conditions.
Ubiquinol is the reduced form of CoQ10 and the most highly absorbed. It is directly used in human metabolism as a lipid-soluble antioxidant. While standard CoQ10 (ubiquinone) supplements can be converted into ubiquinol in the body, this conversion can be less efficient in some individuals, based on age, genetics, blood sugar status or level of oxidative stress.
• Fish Oil: The mainstream media has been reporting on the benefits of fish oil for years. Studies have shown that the omega-3s found in fish oil promotes cardiovascular health, cognitive health, joint health, optimal blood sugar levels, etc. Omega-3s can be found in flaxseed, walnuts and a few other foods. However, the most beneficial form of omega-3s, containing two fatty acids—EPA and DHA— can be found only in fish. EPA and DHA have a multitude of metabolic health benefits, including increased fat burning and improved glucose metabolism.1 In addition, EPA and DHA decrease the expression of genes involved in fat storage,2 down-regulate genes involved in inflammation,3 and lower levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation.3 Be aware to take fish oil products from companies that follow strict procedures to eliminate environmental contaminants to assure the highest purity of its fish oil supplements.
• Flavonoid Root: A breakthrough extract that significantly improves cardiovascular health and the flow of oxygen-rich blood through the arteries. This extract is supported by new science that provides unmatched antioxidant properties and powerful cardiovascular health benefits, including increased flow of oxygen-rich blood.
Recently, the results from a 94-person double-blind, placebo controlled study were published in the scientific journal Food and Nutrition Research (April 2016).4 The study examined the effect of a unique flavonoid root extract on the thickness of the artery wall using CIMT (carotid intima-media thickness). CIMT is considered a strong indicator of overall cardiovascular and arterial health.
Following one year of flavonoid root extract consumption, mean CIMT, total cholesterol, LDL levels and blood pressure decreased. This suggests that this ingredient may attenuate the development of oxidation and of related cerebral vascular issues.
This extract acts like nitric oxide booster supporting increased blood flow and oxygen to the skeletal muscle for increased performance at any age! Furthermore, this extract will facilitate the removal of exercise-induced lactic acid build-up, which reduces fatigue and recovery time in athletes of all ages.
• N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC): A precursor of glutathione, a significant antioxidant and a key detoxifying agent in the liver. Research suggests that NAC levels may drop with age, which could lead to oxidative stress within brain cells, a conspicuous suspect in neurodegenerative disorders, such as alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
• Resveratrol: A substance most often associated with red wine, it is a potent antioxidant that fights free radicals. Multiple studies have shown a diverse range of activities that may make resveratrol one of the most useful antioxidants ever discovered for a wide range of human health problems.
These supplements work via numerous mechanisms to provide natural, broad-spectrum antioxidant support to combat oxidation, which promotes optimal health for the young athlete and an active lifestyle as you age. Because it is so much easier to protect the health of various body systems early in your life than it is to restore their function once damage has occurred, it makes sense to begin a program at a young age. When it comes to protecting and preserving your health, the old cliché, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” couldn’t be more profound. VR
1 Ferre P. The biology of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors: relationship with lipid metabolism and insulin sensitivity. Diabetes. 2004 Feb;53 Suppl 1S43-S50.
2 Delarue J, LeFoll C, Corporeau C, Lucas D. N-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids: a nutritional tool to prevent insulin resistance associated to type 2 diabetes and obesity? Reprod Nutr Dev. 2004 May;44(3):289-99.
3 Li H, Ruan XZ, Powis SH, et al. EPA and DHA reduce LPS-induced inflammation responses in HK-2 cells: evidence for a PPAR-gamma-dependent mechanism. Kidney Int. 2005 Mar;67(3):867-74.
4 Fogelman Y, Gaitini D, Carmeli E. Antiatherosclerotic effects of licorice extract supplementation on hypercholesterolemic patients: decreased CIMT, reduced plasma lipid levels, and decreased blood pressure. Food Nutr Res. 2016;60:30830-5v
Mark Becker is an account manager for Vivion, a raw materials distributor, based in Vernon, CA. He has worked as a natural products sales and marketing executive for 20 years. Becker has written more than 300 articles and has hosted or been a guest on more than 500 radio shows. He obtained a bachelor's in journalism from Long Beach State University and did his Master’s work in communications at Cal State Fullerton. For more than 30 years he has participated in numerous endurance events, including more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 103 marathons and numerous other events including ultramarathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland. He has relied on a comprehensive dietary supplement and homeopathic regimen to support his athletic, professional and personal endeavors. Follow Becker on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marklbecker/posts/387591877933686#!/energyatlast. Follow Becker on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/becker_mark. For more information, access www.vivioninc.com, www.alliedbionutrition.com or www.energyatlast.com.