December 08, 2008

Aging, Antioxidants, and Annoyance

This is just a quick grumpy post about a recent study on antioxidants and aging I read.

Why so quick and grumpy?

Because I didn't like the results, damnit!

Hey, You Promised If I Ate All Those Antioxidants I'd Be Young Forever!

I hate it when a study comes along and dashes my hopes for eternal life. Yes, I know no one has guaranteed that the right combination of nutrition and exercise will keep me young forever. (And a quick glance in the mirror reveals there's definitely a flaw in this theory).

However, it's been kind of implied that if I down enough blueberries and red wine and broccoli and dark chocolate, etc, that all those antioxidants would fight off the nasty free radicals that would otherwise cause me to age faster. I will feel thirty or forty-ish, I was hoping, until I'm actually ninety-ish.

Perfectly Good Aging Theory Spoiled by Worms

Blame Denham Harman for my false hopes. It was his theory that said that aging is due to "an accumulation of molecular damage "caused by "oxidative stress." This theory has apparently been popular for over fifty years, so I had a good excuse for believing it and scarfing up all the antioxidants I could.

But alas, it turns out that a guy named David Gems and some stupid worms are trying to ruin my plans to never grow old.

In this new study, Gems and his colleagues fiddled around with a bunch of nematode worms and beefed up their ability to "mop up" surplus superoxide and limit oxidative damage. Unfortunately, "the lifespan of the worm was relatively unaffected by its ability to tackle the surplus superoxide." This casts serious doubt on the theory that antioxidants will make you live longer. Gems thinks "other factors, such as chemical reactions involving sugars in our body, clearly play a role."


Since this kind of research is far beyond my ability to understand or critique, I'll just have to hope more studies come out and contradict it.

Or, even better, I hope that they figure out a new key to staying young, and that it involves a daily regimen of watching HBO and Showtime series on DVD, eating cupcakes and cheeseburgers, drinking margaritas, and sitting in a massage chair to relieve stress. C'mon scientists, get crackin'!

You Still Have to Eat Your Fruit and Vegetables

Just because antioxidants may not halt aging itself, they are still potent disease fighters so you're not off the hook. Gems concluded: "a healthy, balanced diet is very important for reducing the risk of developing many diseases associated with old age, such as cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis. But there is no clear evidence that dietary antioxidants can slow or prevent aging. There is even less evidence to support the claims of most anti-aging products."

Darn it. Guess I'll go eat worms.

Anyone else disappointed that there might not be a dietary "magic bullet" to prevent aging? Got any good anti-aging suggestions, or are you perfectly happy to grow old gracefully?


  1. I feel about like you do (and also, could someone have told me when I was in my early 30s - hey, this is IT, enjoy!!!) a lot of the time - but I try to whack myself upside the head to remind myself to appreciate getting to age at all, gracefully or not. (very hard in American society, especially being female - aging folks, especially women, seem to be invisible or not valued - this skews one's perspective significantly, I think, but that's probably a post or two in itself) My mom didn't get a chance past 62. My sister became a cancer survivor in her early 40s, and I became one at 40. Since no one makes it out alive, quality of life becomes paramount - maybe that's more where some of the research focus should be. Happy Monday!

  2. Being a researcher myself, I am always skeptical of research like this. Especially when they use non-mammals. I'm not knocking animal models - especially given that I've done hearing research in mice an other lifetime ago. But, when non-mammals are used I tend to not believe any of it. Give mice cheeseburgers versus antioxidant food and I'm sure there will be longevity issues just like with humans :) May be a confound (fattening bad for you food vs antixidants - is the antioxidant or less fat content?), but I think if it gets us gluttons to eat healtheir then yay!
    (maybe I should wait to post till after 7, but it's cranky it fits, right? :)

  3. Damned worms!

    But I'll just sit back and wait - someone else will do another study and sooner or later, they will tell us something different again.....

  4. Great post!

    Here is the real problem. The media and supplement industry blow the original studies out of proportion. One is selling readership, the other products. Take all research pro and against any theory (read 'THEORY') with a grain of salt (unless you are hypertensive).

    Want my advice? Good, here it is - rather than try to stave off aging (which makes me think of wrinkles) try to do anything that improves the QUALITY OF YOUR LIFE.

    Veggies, activity, stress reduction, spend more time with loved ones all come to mind....

  5. "Guess I'll go eat worms." Good one. Totally cracked me up.

    Meanwhile, nothing stops aging. Get and stay as healthy as you can and enjoy yourself. No point living longer if you aren't enjoying all your moments.

  6. Ive surrendered to the trying to age gracefully while trying to UNDO the wrongs of my youth.

    that's a full time job in & of itself.

  7. Ah the research rollercoaster. I feel your pain, sister. I must say I really appreciated Diana's comment! She makes a good point.

  8. Good Post! I have finally found my perfect a few or 8, but I have to move on so fast! Its just unfair, you know?

  9. Now I for one would love to extend my life by eating the “proper” foods, but I’m always a little leery about studies like this. It is a cause for concern but there could be a silver lining here and that's because we don't live our lives like worms. (Except of course that one boss I had back in 1990). Those little creatures no matter how much scientist think they are like us; aren't at all. When was the last time one of those little wigglers had to host a family holiday party or drive through a blinding snow storm? How many have been late for a flight, got bad news from a loved one or spilled coffee down the front of their new clothes minutes before they were supposed to go walking out the door? None, I’ll bet!

    You can compare me to a worm, but I’ll never eat like one.

  10. Well maybe the worms still "looked" really young and the anti aging properties were all enjoyed superficially....but then again how can you tell if a worm has wrinkles?

    Remember, in very few cases is a worm actually a human being.

  11. When I started paying more attention to a healthier lifestyle, my hope was for more quality in my year, not quantity, and so far, it's working.

    My favorite "research" is to ask healthy and fit older folks about their lifestyle, and it's no surprise to me that it's always a healthy diet and plenty of activity.

  12. Guess it's all about quality of life rather than quantity which is fine by me! I'd rather be a bouncy brocolli-eating old lady with an average life-expectancy than a constipated, insomniac, disease-addled 105-year-old with all her bits and pieces dropping off :0)

    TA x

  13. You guys are all so much more grown up about this!

    Yep, I want quality of life for sure, which is a big part of the exercise and nutrition stuff.

    But I want QUANTITY too!! I'm kinda greedy.

    I do like hearing from knowledegable folks that perhaps one worm study doesn't mean too much. (Although I think there might be a mouse one too...)

    So I'll keep eating my vegetables and HOPING that they're giving me anti-aging superpowers even if they don't do squat for worms.

  14. Okay, I read the study, and have issues with it (the first one being Diana's issue). Also, the researchers were just looking at lifespan, so was no mention about the worms' appearance, so there's no way to say that you can't slow how the aging process shows up. And there was no mention of how the worms felt.

    Just a thought.

  15. As a researcher, I'm with Diana. I always say, when reading studies in mouse models, that I am not a mouse!!! That goes doubly so here - I am NOT a nematode! Hello, I have bones and a brain and do not regenerate when part of me is lopped off!

    We share such a small amount of genetic code with worms that these results could all be moot when moved into a more genetically similar organism. (Although I still be skeptical until I see results from humans).

  16. oh, how I love staring my day off with talk of nematode worms~

    have you read In Defense of Food? I'm reading it addresses this kind of 'nutritionism" thinking. Def worth checking out.

  17. Just wanted to note, along the lines of Tricia's comment, that maybe they became beautiful sexy happy worms...

  18. Call this science?
    I'm with you, Crabby. I want /real/ science. Why not have a study wherein worms sit on the couch and watch HBO and eat cupcakes?

  19. Good genes. It's all the good genes.

    Hehe. According to my mum its her steady diet of beer, wine, and chocolate that has kept her young (people always thinks she's 10 years younger than she actually is. It's gotten ridiculous). That and faithfully moisturizing every day.

    I love studies. They really make me laugh. So silly.

  20. I take all the research with a grain of salt - whether it's "antioxidants are good for you" or "antioxidants are a pretty buzz word." It does kinda suck that we were all taught that they were the great big wonderful glittery gem of the food world and now they're not (supposedly), but the foods that have them are still good for us, right?

  21. Ummm...I am not a worm! So there!

  22. Ditto to Nina. (and Tricia)

    (as a total sidenote: Crabby and Merry could make up a fake-but-official-looking "study" and spread it around the internet. You know for scientific see how gullible all of us are.
    hmm, maybe not. But it would be funny.)

  23. The more we study, the less we know for sure.


  24. As the local geek who does the odd oxidative stress research I must say, tis true my sad Crab: oxidative stress can increase the chance of didease and is linked to diabetes and cancer. BUT, controlling it can't help you live forever. Sorry.
    But better?
    Oh yes. We can do that! :)

    As for the study...don't worry...a conflicting one will come out soon enough.'s a nematode...and not a very good study if you ask me. It's not a relevant comparison...and it's not an all or nothing thing.
    PS - my favourite flatworm is platehilmenthes. Yes I am a nerd...

  25. I think I'll still eat blueberries (cause they're tasty.)

    As far as aging gracefully? I intend to age in the most childish way ignoring the fact that I'm aging, and instead doing whatever feels good and healthy for my body and soul.

    Besides, I agree with Missicat, I am not a worm! ^_^

  26. This comment has been removed by the author.

  27. I must be much more skeptical than most (or maybe I'm such a dimwit that I never really 'get' all this ever-changing-the-goalposts nutritional 'knowledge' anyway) because I never really bought into all that anyways. And besides, no amount of anti-oxidants is going to provide any help for those breasts that are competing to see which of them finds the South Pole first! Me - I'm a great believer that our thoughts are probably the single most important ant-ageing tool we have. And I'm not just talking about 'think young here,' I'm talking about the chemical fiesta our thoughts create in our bodies.

  28. I'll tell you how to grow old gracefully.

    Stay out of the sun.
    Eat right.
    Don't drink much.
    Exercise. Yoga.

    I've really only managed the first two rules on a regular basis, but even that has worked out pretty well for me. Now I'm sixty I'm really trying to catch up on the others. I don't mind being wrinkled as much as I mind being decrepit. (My mother in law has been a superb bad example.)

  29. So just how bad is this aging thing? Particularly when you consider the alternative...

  30. greetings. as one person here said (and one of my coaches as well).. no on makes it out alive... in all things moderation... tho i'm still a work in progress on that :)

    my mom always said the best diet.. "push yourself away from the table" :)
    happy trails all

  31. Dr. J,

    Really? What about all those anecdotes about the hunded-year-old geezer who still smokes and drinks regularly? Though I suppose you never do hear of him eating a lot of McDonalds. But man, my great-grandma would sit there cantankerously ordering gin or bourbon, and eating steak, almost until the day she died (at 98)- though she did give up cigarettes at some point, to be fair. Her attitude was, what's the point in getting old if you can't do what you want?

  32. I'm totally disappointed. BUT, does it still block cancer? Cause if it does that then I'm happy again.

  33. I believe that martinis are the key to a long life. Well, martinis & running. :)

    Of course, my grandfather, who lived to 93, believed that bacon & cake were the keys to a long life, and 93 is pretty old, so maybe he was right.

  34. Hmmm . . . I know there was a post about a study in there, but this diet:
    "blueberries and red wine and broccoli and dark chocolate"
    sounds pretty ok to me. I mean, I think I could pretty much live the rest of my live on those 4 foods. Think that would help me live forever? ;)

  35. an interesting article on a similar topic....

  36. Hi Crabby,

    The older I get the surer I am---the experts know less than I do about everything. (How's that for ego?)

    Seriously, eat this, don't eat that. Oops we meant eat that and don't eat this.

    If you live long enough (with or without antioxidents) the advice will change.


  37. Why did they do the study on worms?? More humane than rats? Anyways, I think that by exercising and making healthy choices everyday will help with anti aging. Using anti aging skin products for your face will help with fine lines and wrinkles and help stop signs of aging also.

  38. So, how do worms exercise, anyway? (All the really old people I've known kept active as long as they were able.)

    Mary Anne in Kentucky


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