Powerhouses of cells
WHY we age has been one of the
greatest mysteries that scientists are trying to unravel. The average
lifespan of a mouse is two to three years living in optimal conditions,
unlike some small birds that outlive it by five to 10 times.
The secret, it seems, lies in the health of the mitochondria, the
powerhouses of cells. Scientists concur that one of the factors contributing
to ageing is due to mitochondria) damage. Longevity is associated with the
ability to prevent damage to these powerhouses.
Antioxidants are important substances that protect against mitochondrial
Mitochondrial damage has been linked with age-related degenerative
diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer's and cardiovascular disease.
In the forefront of antioxidant research is alpha- lipoic acid, a
naturally produced vitamin-like substance in the body tissues that is
required for the production of energy in the mitochondria.
It became apparent to scientists that as a co-factor in cellular energy
production, alpha-lipoic acid has potent antioxidant ability equal to that
of the body's natural source of antioxidant enzymes.
What amazes the scientists even more is that it functions equally well in
both the watery components of the cell and fatty tissues, unlike other
This dual ability of alpha-lipoic acid can be used to scavenge free
radicals in the fatty cell membrane that contains lipid and the inside of
the cell that contains the mitochondria and our DNA.
Chemical damage to these components can lead to loss of function and
Mental function is often associated with ageing and ranges from being
mildly forgetful to severe dementia such as in Alzheimer's disease.
Poor mental function is believed to be due to a drop in cellular energy
production in the mitochondria.
Interestingly, animal studies show that alpha-lipoic acid can partially
reverse age-related inefficiency of the mitochondria thus improving memory
Studies also show that the presence of antioxidants is needed to enhance
the body's overall protection against free radical damage.
A high intake of vegetables rich in antioxidant nutrients such as
beta-carotene, vitamin C, zinc and selenium actually protects against
Alzheimer's in a study on more than 5,000 men and women.
Vitamin E has been shown to slow down mental decline in older persons due
to its high fat solubility.
This property of vitamin E is important because 60 per cent of the brain
is made up of fat, which is most vulnerable to free radical injury.
In order to neutralise the activity of free radicals, both vitamin C and
E have to sacrifice their electrons thus turning themselves into unstable
molecules which act as free radicals.
This is where alpha-lipoic acid comes to the rescue. It seems to have
ample free electrons to give away and in doing so recycles both vitamin C
and E, hence prolonging the life of these antioxidants.
Unfortunately, ageing also decreases the body's ability to synthesise
Linus Pauling Institute, which is well known for its research into the
benefits of nutrients, recommends 100mg of alpha-lipoic acid twice daily for