Aging Gracefully: The Overmineralization Hypothesis

The overmineralization hypothesis argues that the buildup of minerals over time leads to the oxidation of bodily tissues and speeds up the aging process in the human body. Women age less quickly because they lose iron with age as a result of monthly menstrual cycles whereas men tend to build up minerals more quickly in the body leading to shorter lifespans. Diet and nutrition appear to play a major role. The aging process, however, declines significantly in the elderly. On the one hand, men accumulate iron in their bodies up until middle age whereas females only begin to accumulate iron with cessation of menstruation or menopause. In both women and men, there is some evidence that dietary iron up to 10 mg achieves iron adequacy without inducing anemia.

Iron and copper play a destructive role in brain aging in such degenerative disorders as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease. Iron accumulates in the striatum and substantia nigra in the subcortex of the brain with age and impacts on cognitive and motor abilities. Iron accumulation leads to problems in cellular metabolism due to oxidation of the mitochondria (key structures inside the cell that facilitate cell metabolism) and appears to produce degenerative brain conditions. More than 90% of oxidation that occurs in the body is in the mitochondria and the major free radical in the mitochondria is the superoxide radical that releases iron from binding proteins. Indeed, the accumulation of iron and calcium in the mitochondria are age-related.

Physical exercise is beneficial to health for many reasons but it also leeches iron, a mineral, from the brain and body.

Green tea extract and quercetin remove or “chelate” iron from the body.

Polyphenols (bioflavonoids) including rinds of citrus fruits; the skin and seeds of grapes, berries and cherries; and the phytonutrients in wine chelate iron and copper from the body.

Resveratrols are a group of phytonutrients found in red wine that have a number of important benefits and are now being investigated by scientists including David Sinclair at Harvard Medical School. Resveratrols chelate copper and reduce oxidation of cholesterol induced by unbound copper in the body. They inhibit the shortening of cell telomeres, which are linked to aging and stress as well as the formation of the superoxide radical. Most importantly, they activate the Sirtuin 1 DNA repair gene that appears to be one of the central genes that impacts on the aging process.

Phytic acid IP-6 (“phytate IP6”) derived from rice and wheat bran, whole grains, seeds, and soy protein impacts on iron oxidation. Soy protein chelates iron and calcium. The health benefits of soy protein (which contains IP-6) is its iron control effect, which produces the cardiovascular health benefits, not the weak phytoestrogens in soy. Phytic acid IP-6 inhibits the shorting of the end caps or telomeres of cells and telomeres shorten each time the cell divides. Cell shortening is correlated with increasing age as well as the effects of psychosocial stress (work, family, friendships) on the body. IP-6 is also critical for cellular (DNA) repair and cell longevity. It regulates the influx of calcium into the mitochondria thus reducing oxidative damage.

Under normal conditions, iron and copper are bound to transport proteins (i.e., ferritin and ceruloplasmin) and do not cause tissue damage because the majority of iron is bound to red hemoglobin pigment in the bloodstream. In the skin, brown melanin pigment binds to iron. But when set free iron and copper can damage bodily tissues and DNA and raise cholesterol. Thus, some observers believe that copper and iron chelation therapy may be helpful in diminishing the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. About 50% of adults over 80 year of age will show some symptoms of dementia.

The cellular cleaning process or what is called “autophagy” can increase longevity. That is, lysosomes continually cleanse cells of cellular debris. Caloric restriction (eating about two-thirds or less of your normal caloric intake), iron chelation, and the use of resveratrols and IP-6 appear to facilitate autophagy.