Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry

, Volume 84, Issue 2, pp 155–161 | Cite as

Free radicals in aging

  • Denham Harman
Invited Paper


Aging is the progressive accumulation of changes with time that are responsible for the ever-increasing likelihood of disease and death. These irreversible changes are attributed to the aging process. This process is now the major cause of death in the developed countries. This fact is obscured by the protean nature of the contributions of this process to the events which terminate life.

The aging process may be due to free radical reations. This theory is supported by: 1) studies on the origin and evolution of life; 2) the numerous studies of the effect of ionizing radiation on living systems; 3) life span experiments in which the diet was modified so as to alter endogenous free radical reaction levels; 4) the plausible explanations it provides for aging phenomena; and 5) the growing number of studies which implicate free radical reactions in the pathogenesis of specific diseases.

The relationship between aging and diseases involving free radical reactions seems to be a direct one. Modulation of the normal distribution of deleterious free radical reaction-induced changes throughout the body by genetic and environmental differences between individuals results in patterns of change, in some sufficiently different from the normal aging pattern to be recognized as disease. The growing number of ‘free radical’ diseases includes the two major causes of death, cancer and atherosclerosis.

It is reasonable to expect on the basis of present data that a judicious selection of diets and antioxidant supplements will increase the healthy, active life span by 5–10 or more years.

Key words

aging free radicals antioxidants disease evolution longevity 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Denham Harman
    • 1
  1. 1.Departments of Medicine and BiochemistryUniversity of Nebraska College of MedicineOmahaUSA

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