Healthy aging is a topic that is discussed often yet is somewhat controversial in it’s definition. Scientists don’t fully understand all the processes that lead to loss of function as people age. But more and more research points to the cell’s powerhouses, called mitochondria, as an important player in aging. Mitochondria are largely responsible for generating energy within a cell. They also produce so-called free radicals, which are molecules with extra electrons that can cause damage — throughout the cell and within the mitochondria itself. Too much damage can cause the mitochondria to stop working properly.
To address that problem, many anti-aging studies and supplements are geared toward reducing the effects of free radicals.
A recent study tested a commercially available supplement marketed for relieving chronic fatigue and protecting against muscle aging. The supplement contains the antioxidant coenzyme Q10, creatine — a compound that aids in muscle performance — and ginseng, also shown to have antioxidant properties. (Antioxidants ameliorate damage caused by free radicals.)
The researchers fed the supplement to 21-month-old and 29-month-old rats — corresponding to 50- to 65-year-old and 65- to 80-year-old humans, respectively — for six weeks, and measured how strongly their paws could grip. Grip strength in rats is analogous to physical performance in humans, and deterioration in grip strength provides useful information about muscle weakness or loss seen in older adults.
At the end of the six weeks, grip strength had improved 12 percent in the middle-aged rats compared with controls. No improvement was found in the older group.
Measurements of the function of mitochondria corresponded with the grip strength findings. Stress tests showed that mitochondrial function improved 66 percent compared with controls in younger rats but not in the older ones. That suggests these anti-aging supplements might be of greater effect before major age-related functional and other declines have set in, the researchers said.
More power to the powerhouses!
Interestingly, although the older rats had no improvement in physical performance or mitochondrial function, they had less free radical damage compared with the control rats.
The researchers speculate that while the supplement helped to reduce the free radical damage, the damage may have been too great in these older animals for the effect to actually restore the mitochondrial function.
What does all this mean? It means that the sooner you start thinking about the importance of antioxidants in your diet, the more likely it is to have a positive effect on your body and its aging process.