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Jonny Bowden, PhD, is a nationally known expert on weight loss, nutrition and health, and best-selling author of seven books including “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth”, “Living Low Carb:[…]

One of the primary processes behind aging is oxidation, which occurs when “free radical,” bachelor, molecules break away from their natural pairings and begin to “hit on” healthy cells. There are, however, a number of ways to protect your body from the harm of these molecular pick-up artists.

Question: How do “free radicals” contribute to aging?

Jonny Bowden: There are four basic processes that contribute to aging that affect every system in the body. One of them is something we call oxidation, or oxidative damage. The way it works is this; you’re got these rogue molecules called free radicals and they operate – they’re kind of like, if anyone remembers from chemistry, or biology, an oxygen molecule has electrons which circle around the center of the molecule. These electrons like to live in pairs. They do very well mated. They’re like the prairie voles; they just like to be with their mate. But once in a while, one gets free. And when one gets free it acts like a traveling salesman at Club Med for the first time and will just go around hitting on anybody trying to find a mate. Now, what it hits on is intact molecules, your cells, your DNA, and it damages them. It hits on them maybe 10,000 times a day. And this is what we call oxidative damage. It’s free radicals looking for a mate.

And you can see what oxidative damage looks like. If you leave something out in the rain, like a metal, it gets rusted. That’s oxidative damage. If you cut an apple and you put it outside in the sun, it gets oxidative damage, it turns brown. And this ages us from within. It hits every cell, our DNA, it causes mutations and it basically ages us from within. It’s kind of like rusting from within. So, oxidative damage is really from free radicals. It’s really one of the four processes that age us the most and I talk about it in the most effective ways to live longer.

Question: How does one protect themselves from the oxidation process?

Jonny Bowden: Well, the best way to fight oxidation is with anti-oxidants. That’s why they’re called anti-oxidants. And these are natural vitamins and some minerals and phytochemicals that are found in food and sometimes in supplements. They include vitamin C; the famous ones are vitamin C, vitamin E, the very underrated trace mineral selenium. Zinc is an antioxidant, and just dozens and dozens, maybe hundreds of thousands of them in the plant kingdom that come under all kinds of categories, like flavonoids and phenols and all these things help fight oxidation by donating one of their electrons so the can kind of do damage control on the oxidation. And that’s why anti-oxidants is such an important part of an anti-aging strategy.