Last week we discussed Inflammation, the first of the “Four Horsemen of Aging”.
This week we’re going to discuss something called oxidative damage.
Here’s how it works. You’ve probably heard of nasty little molecules known as “free radicals”. These “free radicals” do lots of damage to our body. They actually age us. They attack our cells and our DNA. And they also do incalculable damage to our cell membranes.
Even though damage to the cell membranes takes place under the radar, (after all, you can’t see cellular damage except with a microscope), what happens to your cell membranes actually matters a great deal. Nothing will age you faster than an assault on your cell membranes, and here’s why.
The membranes are critical to cell health—they’re what hold the cell together. Cell membranes have to be flexible enough to allow information to pass in and out but stiff enough so that they don’t collapse. They’re delicate structures (one of the reasons trans fats are so harmful is that they damage the cell membrane).
Cell membranes are made up largely of fats (lipids) called phospholipids and the oxidative damage done to cell membranes is called lipid peroxidation. And here’s the thing: the fats that are most vulnerable to this kind of oxidative damage are the very fats we’ve been told to eat more of –unsaturated fats like vegetable oils!
Saturated fats- the very fats we’ve been told by the Diet Dictocrats to avoid at all costs- are actually much more stable and thus less susceptible to oxidative damage than unsaturated vegetable oils!
Does that mean we shouldn’t eat unsaturated fats? No. But it does mean they need special protection in the form of antioxidants if we’re going to get their full benefit.
The vulnerability of unstable fats to oxidative damage is actually the reason why health practitioners always recommend a little vitamin E with your fish oil. Fish oil, a highly unsaturated fat which is also one of the healthiest, most anti-aging compounds on the planet, is nonetheless made up of delicate fatty acids extremely vulnerable to damage from both heat and oxygen (that’s why you can’t cook with either fish oil or flaxseed oil).
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and will protect the delicate structures of the omega-3 fatty acids in fish (and flax).
Next week in Part IV, we’ll discuss one of the many reasons you shouldn’t eat too much sugar- a nasty little “horseman of aging” called Glycation!