Kamis, 15 November 2012

Glutathione, Stem Cell Treatments and Ageing

In our Filipino culture, it is accepted, and we are not shocked, when acquaintances come up to us and say outright "you look fat!" or "you look old!" Surely we're used to it, but it may add into the growing popularity of anti-oxidant and anti-aging products around.

Who wouldn't want to look good and younger (than our age)? But wouldn't the more important question be, "do I feel good?" "Do I feel healthy?" "Why do I feel 'older' than my age?"

We usually correlate aging with the appearance of age-related and degenerative diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, alzheimers, and many more. Aside from products that try to delay outward appearance of aging, there are a lot of products that promote being able to move more, bike, go ballroom dancing, play with grandkids, etc.

So it's not really about stopping the hands of time and living forever, isn't it? It's about being able to sustain a certain quality of life despite aging.

So why do our bodies' age? There are 2 main schools of thought when it comes to aging:

1. Structural

There are several theories on aging that goes deep to the study of cells, but the 2 most popular are the 'wear and tear' theory where the changes in a person's body is the accumulation of its everyday use, like a machine that's brand new compared to one that is 10 years old, for example; and another popular one is the free-radical theory. Free radicals are atoms or molecules that has an unpaired electron (remember chemistry way back?) because of a chemical reaction. These reactions also occur in our cells and free radicals accumulate in our cells causing cellular damage - and speeds up the aging process. The accumulation of free radicals is further induced by our environment, e.g. industrial smoke, chemicals, pesticides, radiation, etc..

2. Genetic

There are also a number of theories that went further into the study of genes and DNA. Simply put, there are a number of genes that attribute to longer life spans of people. We see this theory in real life as traits in particular families, where children live around the same life span as their parents. What was interesting is a study on 'centenarians' done by Dr. Thomas Perls of Harvard School of Medicine. Centenarians, as the name suggests, are people who have lived for more than 100 years and Dr. Perls did his study in a geriatric rehabilitation center. Dr. Perls assumption, (as my assumption, and perhaps your assumption would be the same), is that the oldest residents of the center would be the 'sickest' residents. But this is not necessarily so, as it turns out. Those that live for a long time, e.g. >90 years, are those that are free of degenerative diseases while their contemporaries who have live relatively shorter life spans, have developed heart disease or type II diabetes at say, 40 or 50 years of age.

Our genes don't necessarily predict our life span and the diseases that we will have. Our genes are not 'magic mirrors' that tell us neither the future nor a 'curse' on what's to come to us in the future. Rather, it's a tendency. The ability to live a long and healthy life is a combination of both our genetic disposition and our lifestyle, and the 2 schools of thought about aging shows this.

Where there are free radicals there are anti-oxidants:

Since these chemical reactions, free radicals, occur naturally in our bodies, our bodies also have natural systems that work to get rid of these free radicals. We call them antioxidant enzyme systems, there are 3 but the most popular that we all know is that of the enzyme, glutathione. Yes, our bodies produce our own anti-oxidants and one of them is glutathione. How it works is that the anti-oxidants are molecules with an atom that has an extra space for the electron from the free-radical.

So there is actually a lot of science behind the different glutathione products, or rather, since we cannot use glutathione per se, substances that become or stimulate the production of glutathione in our bodies. And there are many more anti-oxidants; the most common are 3 vitamins, A, C and E.

One tip for those of us that are taking anti-oxidant supplements: Take different kinds of anti-oxidants because different anti-oxidants work at different parts of the body and anti-oxidants stimulate other anti-oxidants, especially those that are already in our bodies.

Another tip, is to remember that our environment adds more free-radicals to our bodies, let's be conscious about how we live, where we spend most of our time, what we breathe, what we use and what we eat - stay as natural (unprocessed) and organic as we can.

I'll end with the growing popularity of stem cell treatment. Do they really help keep us younger?

Stem cells are undifferentiated cells. It explains how a simple egg cell and sperm cell fertilize and develop into a complete human being. The beginning embryo is made up of stem cells, undifferentiated, just a small small ball of cells, and then these cells turn into brains cells, nerve cells, liver cells, blood, muscle, bone, skin, and so on. So the theory in stem cell treatment is that when we introduce stem cells into the body, for example for a person with nerve damage, these stem cells will turn into nerve cells that help regenerate the damaged nerves. Imagine the impact this will bring to people with degenerative disease or traumas! The treatments are still experimental, so at this time, our best chance is still for prevention of degenerative diseases in the first place.

These insights help us catch a glimpse into the 'secrets' of keeping young. And the secret is that is it not about "stopping the hands of time" but more so living a full and healthy life, preventing degenerative diseases, as we grow older and older.