Cell Death May Spur Longevity, Not the Other Way Around

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Yes, Kelly Clarkson.

Or is it everything that kills me makes me feel alive?

Rap Genius.

But what if what didn't kill you actually kept you alive?  And living longer?

The reality is that it's not the antioxidants that allow us to age more slowly but the toxins.  That's right, toxins.

According to newswise.com, "Many people believe that free radicals, the sometimes-toxic molecules produced by our bodies as we process oxygen, are the culprit behind aging. Yet a number of studies in recent years have produced evidence that the opposite may be true."

Now a research team has found that free radicals – also known as oxidants – act on a molecular mechanism that, in other circumstances, tells a cell to kill itself.

McGill researchers found that this same mechanism -- which causes cells to die so they don't become cancerous or to kill off viruses that have invaded he cell -- when stimulated in the right way by free radicals, actually reinforces the cell’s defenses and increases its lifespan. 

“People believe that free radicals are damaging and cause aging, but the so-called ‘free radical theory of aging’ is incorrect,” the Web site quotes Siegfried Hekimi, a professor in McGill’s Department of Biology and senior author of the study. “We have turned this theory on its head by proving that free radical production increases during aging because free radicals actually combat – not cause – aging. In fact, in our model organism we can elevate free radical generation and thus induce a substantially longer life.”

So what does this mean for you?  The long and the short of it is that programmed cell death may aid longevity through the toxins we've always thought harmed us. This process -- apoptosis -- can be used to "stimulate mechanisms that slow down aging." 

So should we all go out and find some toxins our body can use?  No.  What happens is all on the inside of us. But if scientists can figure out how to make this happen automatically, it might go a long way towards curing cancer and auto-immune diseases.  


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