The Benefits and Risks of Free Radicals

As we experience the onset of 76 million baby boomers entering their 50s, aging is rapidly becoming the number one health concern of our population. The quantity and quality of life that each of us may hope for is primarily a function of two influences, genetics and lifestyle choices. The promise of genetic cures for aging is still in the future. However, the reality of lifestyle choices to manage our health and delay the effects of aging is available and accessible to each of us today.

As practitioners of naturalistic medicine our mission is to educate patients on the principles of natural health and anti-aging lifestyles as well as treat the diseases they may experience.

Over the past decade the scientific community has adopted the concept of biological age rather than chronological age as the true barometer of potential longevity. A person's chronological age is the number of years calculated from their birth date to the present date. It represents how long one has lived. A person's chronological age only increases. A person's biological, functional or real age is a calculation of life expectancy based upon accumulated risk factors, including oxidative load. It represents quality of life and how long a person has left to live. A person's biological age will optimize and decrease with appropriate lifestyle and supplement choices.

The two major theories of aging are programmed cell failure and accumulated cellular damage. The basic building blocks of our bodies are cells. These cells grow and divide to replace the cells damaged by trauma and the processes of daily living. Some scientists believe that our cells are programmed to divide only a set number of times. This theory has resulted in the belief that people may live to a maximum age of 120 years.

Research into our genetic code holds the promise of extending this age limit. Other scientists believe that our cells lose their ability to divide and continue life when they accumulate an excess of chemical insults. Oxidation is one chemical insult that when minimized leads to a longer and more productive life.

Oxygen is essential to life. The chemical structure of oxygen easily pulls electrons off other chemical structures, altering and possibly weakening them in a process known as oxidation. Oxidation drives our production of energy in a chain of chemical reactions known as "Krebs Cycle." It also protects us by breaking down toxic chemicals and invaders such as viruses, bacteria and fungus. However, when oxidization is uncontrolled it will create free radicals and damage our genetic code, interfere with energy production, and accelerate aging.

As an example, most of us are familiar with the breakdown of iron and steel known as rusting. The characteristic red scale of rust is produced in a chemical reaction between oxygen and iron known as oxidation. While people do not exactly rust, we do face oxidation every day. Emotional stress, fried foods, poor digestion, chronic infections and industrial pollution are common sources of oxidizing chemicals. How we deal with these and other sources of oxidation will directly affect the quality and length of our lives.

As all oxidation releases free radicals, it is imperative that we consume significant quantities of antioxidants, nutrients that help defend against free radical damage. Many vitamins, minerals, herbs and teas have antioxidant properties and are shown to be more effective when taken in combination rather than exclusively. Also due to the total oxidative stress encountered daily it is unlikely that we could satisfy our need for antioxidants by diet alone-consequently daily supplementation is recommended.

One method of evaluating the effect of oxidation on aging is the Biological Terrain Analysis (BTA), a laboratory test that measures the pH (acid/alkaline balance), oxidative load and mineral content of blood, saliva and urine. A computerized calculation then generated to produce the person's biological or true age. Optimal health requires the pH, oxidative load and mineral content to be within certain ranges for each of the three body fluids. An imbalance in the three chemical parameter suggests a susceptibility to disease and premature aging.

We have been using the BTA test for the past four years and have found it to be an excellent tool in assessing patients and directing their health recovery and maintenance programs. In a continuing effort to improve patient test scores and their health, we recently initiated a pilot study into the potential of a traditional North American Indian herbal tea formula, popularly known as Flor Essence, to assess its potential impact on patient BTA scores. This formula has been recognized for its excellent antioxidant and antitoxin reducing qualities as well as its positive effect on a broad range of chronic health conditions.

This tea formula, which originated with the Ojibwa Indians of Ontario Canada, incorporates the individual and synergistic properties of the eight herbs identified in the accompanying chart. In 1922 the formula was given to a nurse, Rene Caisse, who in 1924 employed it to help her aunt. Subsequently Nurse Caisse used the formula successfully to treat numerous health challenged individuals and she became somewhat of a local folk hero.

Over the nearly 70 years since Caisse first assisted her aunt, this traditional native herbal tea has gained an international reputation as an effective natural remedy for a wide variety of common health problems. Until recently this information had been primarily anecdotal. However, since 1997 there have been a number of ongoing scientific studies in North America and Europe which have affirmed its powerful antioxidant properties.

Our pilot BTA study consisted of 15 volunteers with an average chronological age of 40.3 years and an average biological age at the start of the study of 49.6 years. Each volunteer was to consume no nutritional herbs or supplements for two weeks before the study. During the study the only supplementation they were to consume was two ounces of the prepared tea twice a day.

After one month the average biological age was 44.5 years. While still four years above the average chronological age, it represented an improvement of 5.1 functional years. The most significant improvement was experienced by a woman who was 29 years of age chronologically, whose first BTA test showed her to be 43 biological years of age and whose second BTA test showed her to be 27 biological years of age. Her net improvement was an astounding 37 percent in her functional age in a span of four weeks.

While these are results of the first phase of an ongoing study, we are confident they indicate the potential antiaging impact of herbal antioxidants in lowering the biological age of our test group. Also those herbal antioxidants are considered along with nutritional supplementation, proper diet, exercise and stress management when establishing a comprehensive self-managed antiaging program.

While most individuals are interested in knowing their biological age, not everyone has access to Biological Terrain Assessment testing. A reasonable alternative is the Biological Age Questionnaire available free