Free Radicals, Aging, and Performance
by Coach Seiji
If you have followed this site for any time at all you know that Coach Seiji is a major contributor and the braintrust behind most of the articles. I may own and operate the site but Coach Seiji is the wisdom behind the info. While you may know Seiji as the trainer to many pro riders (Andrew Short for most of his career and currently, Weston Peick and Phil Nicoletti) Seiji is also a regular contributor to Gear Junkie, Gear Institute, Upshift Online Magazine and other adventure and sports related outlets. Be sure to check out his blog site that serves as a repository for works not committed to these publications. - Virtual Trainer
A century ago, our lifespan averaged 50 years. Now, only 100 years later, the average lifespan is nearing 80 years. This steady march in extending life pairs with an equally impressive rise in athletic performance in those who would be near death 100 years ago. Master’s athletes continue to crush barriers and are amongst the most motivated to apply current knowledge to continue smashing physical boundaries and remain above ground as long as possible.
An area of longevity research that is rapidly expanding revolves around limiting the damage caused by free radicals; accumulation of free radicals is directly related to aging, and thus performance.
What are Free Radicals?
The term “free radical” is commonly thrown around wellness literature alongside proposed antioxidant based cures. But what are free radicals and is it as simple as eliminating them with antioxidants
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Free radicals are molecular byproducts of creating cellular energy; stopping free radical production isn’t possible, so research focuses on limiting their negative effects. A free radical molecule is unstable because it carries an unpaired electron; think of this unpaired electron as a magnet that is constantly in search of another magnet. The free radical can steal a magnet from another molecule, pairing its electron, but creating another free radical in the process.
This chain reaction of free radicals creating other free radicals causes oxidative stress which damages cells, cell membranes, proteins, lipids, mitochondrial DNA, and can trigger inflammation. Some production of free radicals is necessary; they act as signaling molecules and are an essential part of the required oxidative processes. It’s when the balance tips towards accumulating damage that the free radical production becomes problematic. This gathering damage can be thought of as aging, and corresponds to declining performance.
Do Antioxidants Help?
Antioxidants abound with spare “magnets” that they donate to unstable free radicals. Eating vitamin B, E, selenium, and beta-carotene seems like the simple solution. But eating too many synthetic antioxidants can create antioxidative stress and in older people, supplementation isn’t enough to overcome the rate of accumulating damage.
A sirtuin is a protein that removes acetyl groups from lysine amino acids that make up different proteins. This “marks” the DNA that surrounds the protein, altering the way the protein folds. This alteration of protein expression regulates many complex cellular processes, including those that reduce free radical effects, repair DNA, remove cellular debris, and curb inflammation.
Sirtuins demand a co-enzyme called NAD+, but NAD+ becomes depleted with aging, and sirtuin creation drops correspondingly. Recent research has revolved around supplementing NAD+ levels to bolster sirtuin production to improve both longevity and performance.
NAD+ research is relatively new and limited but will surely expand due to the commercial potential of supplements that could aid longevity and performance. One study performed by Harvard Medical School involved NAD+ supplementation in drinking water for mice. The NAD+ levels in the mice increased within hours, and within a week, muscle and tissue aging in older mice reversed. The tissues within a two-year-old mouse became nearly identical to the tissue in a four-month-old mouse.
The Wild West
The supplement industry is unregulated and “longevity” and “performance” are profitable tag lines. A quick perusal of Google and Amazon results in supplements ranging from NAD+ precursors such as nicotinamide riboside, nicotinamide mononucleotide, and pure NAD+. A few NAD+ clinics have sprung up, charging huge sums of money for the “fountain of youth.”
Although the limited research is promising, one must be skeptical of the supplementation industry and medically-aligned businesses who leverage the hype for profit. There is potential in the NAD+ and sirtuin route, but there is equal potential in preying on the emotional triggers of aging and performance decline.
Hopefully, research continues to reveal ways to improve sirtuin levels, and a viable, effective, and affordable method of raising NAD+ levels becomes available. But until then, buyer beware. People have historically succumbed to the promise of longer, healthier lives and improved athletic performance and this new area of attention could result in similar public duping. But it could also be a true advancement in human health, longevity, and performance. Only time will tell.
About the Author: Seiji Ishii is the head coach of www.coachseiji.com. Coachseiji.com provides online coaching and personal training services to motorsports athletes. Coach Seiji has worked with both pros and elite amateurs including: Heath Voss, Ryan Clark, Austin Stroupe, PJ Larsen, Hunter Hewitt, Drew Yenerch, Jason Anderson, and Andrew Short. Learn more at coachseiji.com or contact Coach Seiji directly.
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