The scientific world knew little about mitochondria in 1972, but Dr. Harman's intuition caused him to zero in on them astonishing foresight. Granted the mitochondria's essential role in energy production, and their precarious role as both the origin of most of the body's free radical load, and the prime target of those free radicals, it seemed obvious that free radical damage to mitochondria might play an especially crucial role in the slow, whimpering slump into loss of function, disease, and death that we casually refer to as "aging." 97So what if the antioxidant "troops" he was sending in to protect his animals were not reaching this critical free radical battlefield?
As later studies would show, his intuition was correct. Standard antioxidants - including even the "mitochondrial antioxidant," CoQ10 93, 98 99 fail to protect the mitochondria when taken as supplements, except perhaps in persons who already have advanced diseases. And when the mitochondria fall, so must the cell. Without energy - or with an impossibly high free radical burden - life cannot continue. The cell can't perform its essential functions in the body. Proteins aren't made; chemicals aren't detoxified; hearts don't pump; wounds don't heal. Youth fades. Organisms age … and die. Dr Harman concluded that mitochondria are the nexus of the fundamental processes of aging. 97
Since Dr. Harman made his radical leap in 1972, evidence has piled up in favor of this view, and some form of "mitochondrial free radical theory of aging" is now widely accepted as being critical to any understanding of aging … and any approach to its cure. 57, 70, 71, 72, 100 101
One powerful piece of support for the key role of mitochondria in the aging process is the fact that the levels of free radical damage created and suffered by mitochondria vary from one species to the next - and there's a consistent relationship with the maximum lifespan. The fewer free radicals a species' mitochondria produce; 102 the more resillent the species' mitochondrial membranes against free radical onslaught; 103 the less free radical damage suffered by the species' mitochondrial DNA over a lifetime; 59 the shorter is that species' maximum lifespan.
And there's another, extremely powerful piece of evidence for the mitochondrial free radical theory - evidence from the one anti-aging therapy that has actually been proven to work.
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