Free Radicals: from Basic Science to Medicine

Part of the series Molecular and Cell Biology Updates pp 124-143

Free Radical Theory Of Aging

  • D. HarmanAffiliated withUniversity of Nebraska College of Medicine

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Aging is the accumulation of changes responsible for both the sequential alterations that accompany advancing age and the associated progressive increases in the chance of disease and death. The production of these changes can be attributed to the environment and disease and to an inborn aging process (es). Past improvements in general living conditions have decreased the chances for death so that they are now near limiting values in the developed countries. In these countries the aging process is the major cause of disease and death after about age 28. The free radical theory of aging postulates that aging changes are caused by free radical reactions. Support for this theory is extensive; it includes: 1) studies on the origin and evolution of life, 2) studies of the effect of ionizing radiation on living things, 3) dietary manipulation of endogenous free radical reactions, 4) the plausible explanation it provides for aging phenomena, and 5) the growing number of studies that implicate free radical reactions in the pathogenesis of specific diseases. On the basis of present data the healthy active life span may be increased by 5-10 or more years by keeping body weight down, at a level compatible with a sense of well-being while ingesting diets adequate in essential nutrients but designed to minimize random free radical reactions in the body.