The Biochemical Mechanisms Behind Those Pesky Visible Symptoms Of Aging
These things can be explained and aren’t really facets of rocket science. How do we make sense of them, though?
Aging is unfortunately an inevitable problem that all of us humans will face.
And when it comes to aging, multiple aspects of our lives can be affected.
Physically, we won’t be able to do things at 60 that we could do at 20.
Mentally, we may face cognitive declines.
We tend to associate white hair with a person as a sign of longevity. It makes them look dignified and respectable.
One question, though. How did their hair colour change from black/brown/red/whatever to white? What was the biochemical mechanism behind all that?
Another question, now. How did those wrinkles come to pass?
If we analyse it at the cellular level, we may find some clues.
Because what we have in our cells are the mitochondria, which are responsible for generating energy for the cell. They are the cell’s powerhouses. The cell obtains fuel in the form of acetyl-CoA, which can be supplied via fats (ketones) or carbohydrates (glucose).
This acetyl-CoA then goes through a series of electron transfer reactions via the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle.
The electrons that are extracted are channelled through the electron transport chain (ETC) via the activity of Coenzyme Q10.
Ideally, these electrons then get shunted into an oxygen molecule, such that the oxygen molecule gets reduced to a water molecule.
And that’s why we do breathe out water vapour during the respiration process. We’re producing it as we’re generating energy. During periods of intense exercise, we need to generate more energy — and we consequently generate more water vapour too.
That’s the end of the energy generation process. Our cells get energy to function, and that’s all fine and dandy.
Of course, in a non-ideal sense…
The problem is that the ETC may not be operating optimally, and the electrons don’t get transferred that properly.
As a result, molecular oxygen may not get completely reduced to water, but it can get partially reduced to the reactive superoxide or hydrogen peroxide forms, which we can term as reactive oxygen species (ROS). This article states that
The evidence strongly suggests that the electron transport chain, located in the inner mitochondrial membrane, is the major source of reactive oxygen species in animal cells.
The problem being that the ROS, as their name suggests, is reactive.
Hydrogen peroxide, after all, is something that people do use for vanity’s sake — that’s how the derogatory term “peroxide blonde” comes about, after all.
If we can use hydrogen peroxide externally to bleach our hair…
What happens when the cells in our head produce hydrogen peroxide internally?
Would the discolouration of our hair not proceed, too?
So what we’re using externally for vanity’s sake…
Can actually be something that we’re producing internally.
What happens, then, when we’re producing it in larger than usual quantities? We’d get into a state of oxidative stress, which is defined by this article as:
Oxidative stress is an imbalance between cellular production of reactive oxygen species and the counteracting antioxidant mechanisms. The brain with its high oxygen consumption and a lipid-rich environment is considered highly susceptible to oxidative stress or redox imbalances. Therefore, the fact that oxidative stress is implicated in several mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, is not surprising.
And unfortunately, a lot of mental health issues do have oxidative stress as a common problem.
But the problem is that…
The stress that we do face in our daily lives can be a major precursor towards the development of oxidative stress.
After all, during this past year filled with lockdowns and people losing their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health cases have skyrocketed in many parts of the developed world, such as in the United States. We cannot deny that psychological and emotional stress isn’t dealing internal damage to different people just because it remains unseen.
And if we’re stressed and our brain is in a state of oxidative stress…
We’d be producing more hydrogen peroxide.
That hydrogen peroxide is going to discolour our hair internally…
And that gives a stressed person a higher probability of developing greying hair prematurely.
Of course, the hydrogen peroxide can also work elsewhere, such as the collagen proteins that provide structural support for our skin.
When the hydrogen peroxide attacks the collagen and forces the structural support to collapse, we can see it in the form of…
The skin loses its elasticity, and we’d be looking at the development of premature wrinkles. Which is, as we can tell, a sign of premature aging too.
So it isn’t really rocket science as to why we see stressed people aging prematurely. It is, however, pure biochemistry.
Of course, the “anti-aging” nutrition that we do feed our cells with is key. We’d want to be looking at Coenzyme Q10 and the nuclear respiratory factor 2 (nrf2) pathway as a way to support our cellular functions internally. Highly bioavailable too, of course, because we want the nutrition that we do consume in our diet to actually reach the cells through our blood.
Just so that we can look at reducing the rate of ROS that we’re producing in our bodies!
Joel Yong, Ph.D., is a biochemical engineer/scientist, an educator, and a writer. He has authored 5 ebooks (available on Amazon.com in Kindle format) and co-authored 6 journal articles in internationally peer-reviewed scientific journals. His main focus is on finding out the fundamentals of biochemical mechanisms in the body that the doctors don’t educate the lay people about, and will then proceed to deconstruct them for your understanding — as an educator should.
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