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
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