Presence of Oxygen Radicals in Early Childhood May Determine Life Span
Oxidation is the process of breaking down. Just like metal rusting when exposed to oxygen, so too do our bodies deteriorate. The presence of free oxygen radicals in the body is believed to be the cause of aging at the molecular level. Oxygen radicals are reactive molecules that damage cellular components, resulting in oxidative stress. Lately, taking anti-oxidants have become very popular as a way to control the molecular aging process. A recent study attempted to measure the reactive oxygen species in worms to identify which processes were affected. They found that very high levels of oxygen radicals exist in the worm's body, long before the aging actually begins.
The study was conducted by scientists from the University of Michigan and published by Professor Ursula Jakob and her co-workers.
In fact, it is during childhood when the oxidants begin to accumulate and reach a very high level. Later in life, oxidant levels decline and then surge upward as the body gets older. It is during this second surge that the aging process really occurs.
The researchers also observed oxidant levels in mutant worms which were designed to live longer than regular worms. The mutant worms were able to cope much better with the oxygen radicals than the others. This suggests that the ability to deal with and recover from early oxidative stress may be an indicator of the animal's life span.
"We fully expected to see increased levels of reactive oxygen species in older animals, but the observation that very young animals transiently produce these very high levels of oxidants came truly as a big surprise," said Daniela Knoefler, a doctoral candidate in Jakob's lab.
Jakob stresses that this may not be the case for humans and more research would be required. For example, the next step would be to discover the mechanism behind the accumulation of oxidants in early childhood.
By manipulating the oxygen radical levels early in life, one could potentially alter the life span. Getting there may be within our means. Jakob explains, "There are some convincing studies conducted in mice which show that manipulating metabolism in the first few weeks of life can produce a substantial slowing of the aging process and increase in life span."
This study has been published in the journal, Molecular Cell
Young Child image via Shutterstock