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The role of free radicals in the aging process.

ANTI-AGING REGIMENS take many forms, including nutrition, physical fitness, skin care, hormone replacement, vitamins, supplements and herbs. It's all become a lucrative business, with annual sales topping $50 billion, according to the American Medical Association. (1) For the cosmetic chemist, free radicals play a key role in aging. This column will discuss briefly the role of free radicals, what they are, how they are created, what kind of havoc they cause in the body and how resulting damages could be avoided.

Free radicals and associated aging were first proposed in 1956 by Dr. Denham Harman of the University of Nebraska, College of Medicine. Free radicals are highly active, unstable oxygen atoms and are also referred to as singlet oxygen. Different kinds of free radicals are known as reactive oxygen species (ROS). They are created from many metabolic processes as well as from inflammation and sun damage. Oxygen is needed to breathe and metabolize food for energy, but it could also damage cells. All aging is the result of the activity of free radicals. They are by-products of many chemical reactions within the body, but they are also readily formed from smoking, alcohol, stress and pollution and greatly affect the skin.

The term free radical describes any molecule that differs from conventional molecules in that it possesses a free electron, a feature that makes it react with other molecules in highly destructive ways. In a typical atom, the electrical charge is balanced. It is important to note that electrons come in pairs, so that their electrical charges cancel each other out. Atoms that are missing electrons combine with atoms that have an extra electron, creating a stable molecule with evenly paired electrons and a neutral electric charge. The free radical possesses an extra electron, creating an extra negative charge. This unbalanced electrical energy makes the free radical tend to attach itself to other molecules as it tries to attract a matching electron and thus acquire electrical equilibrium. In such a manner they create new free radicals that, in turn, damage the body.

Multi-site Damages

Free radical damage continues until the day you die. In youth, its adverse harmful effects are not significant because the body has extensive repair and replacement mechanisms. With advancing age, however, accumulated effects of free radical damage initiates aging. The sun damages skin by creating a huge amount of free radicals on the surface. Just visualize a cut apple that is exposed to the air. In less than 30 minutes, the exposed apple flesh turns brown due to oxidation. Our skin shows a similar reaction when exposed to the sun without using any sunscreen. The free radical damages a wide range of skin components, including:

Collagen: Free radicals attack collagen. The damaged collagen begins to deteriorate and in essence becomes deformed. Healthy collagen is smooth and supple. It keeps skin moist, flexible and elastic, but when it is bombarded by free radicals routinely, they fray and break resulting eventually in facial lines and wrinkles. Skin sagging and wrinkles are directly proportional to the free radical damage. Skin appears weathered on people devoted to outdoor life, who have not practiced proper sun-safey behaviors, and is the result of cross-linked collagen.

Elastin: Responsible for elasticity of the skin. Free radical damage transforms elastin into something resembling dried-out, fissured cork. Skin loses the ability to spring back. Its suppleness is diminished and looks aged.

Melanin: Free radicals also damage melanin production, resulting in uneven skin pigment. The free radicals also attack the structure of our cell membranes, creating metabolic waste products known as lipofuscins. An excess of lipofuscins in the body is partially responsible for darkening of the skin in some areas, also known as "age spots," indicating an excess of metabolic waste resulting from cellular destruction. Lipofuscins also disturb cellular enzymes, which are needed for vital chemical processes. As a result of free radical damage, pigment production becomes disorderly and unpredictable, making skin appear unsightly and aged.

Skin Cell Production: Oxidants, byproducts of cellular chemistry, act like rust on the cell. Once a cell membrane becomes damaged by free radicals, it is unable to let nutrition in or waste out. As a result, waste begins to accumulate, occupying more and more space in the cell, squeezing out water and dehydrating cells--the root of cell aging. Unprotected sun exposure and free radicals slow down skin cell production. In well-protected skin, there are plenty of healthy cells to replenish the cells that were shed. However, they will not be replaced with plump healthy cells; rather, older, dehydrated cells take their place. Extensive sun exposure guarantees a breakdown in normal cell growth and the replenishment cycle. This gives rise to skin cancer--cells start growing too fast, resulting in skin growth and the onset of cancer.

Damage Prevention Strategies

Antioxidants prevent cellular rusting and are formulated into anti-aging products for the prevention of aging caused by UV damage. Free radical damage could also be designated as oxidation--a process of adding oxygen to a substance comparable to the way rust is added to metal. Substances that prevent the harmful effects of oxidation are known as antioxidants and they help combat the effects of aging. It is important to point out that topically applied product must be absorbed into the skin and reach the target tissue in the active form and deliver desired benefits. The free radical theory of aging implies that antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E, as well as superoxide dismutase, will slow the aging process by preventing free radicals from oxidizing sensitive biological molecules or reducing the formation of free radicals.

The antioxidant actives found in many foods are often cited as the basis of claims for the benefits or a diet with high intake of vegetables and fruits. The addition of antioxidants could lead to a decrease of normal biological response to free radicals and lead to a more resistant environment to oxidation. There are also other oral strategies that could increase the skin antioxidant defense system from within by fighting against sun damage of both skin and eyes. Antioxidants cannot reverse sun damage or block UV rays; they help prevent sun damage by neutralizing free radicals that the skin produces when it is exposed to UV light.

Free radical scavengers actively search free radicals and bind them before they attach themselves to molecules and cause cross-linking. It is well recognized that certain vitamins and minerals fight aging by acting as free radical scavengers.

Several drugs and supplements have been shown to retard or reverse the biological effects of aging in animal models, but none has been proved in humans. Resveratrol, a chemical found in red grapes, has been shown to extend the lifespan of yeast by 60%, worms and flies by 30% and one species of fish by almost 60%.

Dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE) is a powerful antioxidant. It helps reverse the effects of skin aging such as wrinkles and sagging and is used both internally and externally.

Finally, cosmetic intervention, such as skin resurfacing, Botox treatments, anti-aging products and plastic surgery, are performed to mask the effects of aging.

Conclusion

Free radicals are damaging chemicals that are released by exposure to UV light. They damage a variety of skin functions leading to cell damage, premature aging and increased risk of cancer. Aging occurs because our DNA and cell membranes are chemically eroded by free radicals, generated by our own metabolism. But don't despair. Today there are products available which profess to fix free radical damage even to DNA, proving that it is never too late to reverse the effects of aging.

References

(1.) "Science behind use of hormones as anti-aging treatments," Chicago Tribune 6/15/09.

NAVIN M. GERIA

VP-R&D

SPADERMACEUTICALS

NAVIN M. GERIA IS VICE PRESIDENT OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT FOR SPADERMACEUTICALS, MARTINSVILLE, NJ. HE HAS MORE THAN 30 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE IN THE PERSONAL CARE INDUSTRY AND WAS PREVIOUSLY WITH PFIZER, WARNER-LAMBERT, SCHICK, BRISTOL-MYERS AND, MOST RECENTLY, LEDERMA CONSUMER PRODUCTS LABORATORIES. HE HAS EARNED OVER 15 U.S. PATENTS, HAS BEEN PUBLISHED IN COSMETIC TRADE MAGAZINES AND HAS BEEN BOTH A SPEAKER AND MODERATOR AT COSMETIC INDUSTRY EVENTS. E-MAIL: TOKUHO02@OPTONLINE.NET.
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Title Annotation:Anti-Aging & Cosmeceutical Corner
Author:Geria, Navin M.
Publication:Household & Personal Products Industry
Date:Oct 1, 2009
Words:1356
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