Antioxidant intake and physical capabilities in the elderly.




Am J Clin Nutr

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Aging is a natural, normal part of life. We sometimes tend to fear growing older, accepting without question the belief that ill health and infirmity are inevitable consequences of the aging process. It doesn't need to be this way. While it's true that our risk of disease goes up as we age, there is no reason why we cannot enjoy good health for a lifetime. In fact, science is learning more about how we can do just that. No one can turn the clock back on aging, but an impressive body of scientific research points the way to strategies that may help people stay healthier as they grow older, and perhaps even live longer. How long you live and how healthy you remain while you live depend a great deal on the way you live.

The free radical theory of aging, first presented by Denham Harman, M.D., in 1956, says that changes that occur in the body with aging are caused by the buildup of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that have an unpaired electron. This unpaired electron makes the free radical highly unstable, like a sort of molecular loose cannon. Molecular peacekeepers, substances that donate electrons to halt free radical chain reactions, are called "antioxidants." Also known as "free radical scavengers," antioxidants include familiar nutrients like vitamins A, C, and E. The plant world fairly brims with antioxidants, which is one reason why fruits and vegetables are so healthy.

In a recent study, muscle and physical strength were measured in elderly (65 years or older) and compared to the antioxidant intake of these individuals. The theory behind this investigation is that free radical damage may cause weakening of physical capabilities in the elderly. Physical activities such as walking and standing balance were measured in 986 Italians. Using food questionnaires, dietary intake for beta carotene, vitamins C and E, and retinol were recording. The results showed that those with a higher intake of vitamin E was associated greater knee extension and overall physical performance. Vitamins C and E as well as beta carotene was also associated with better performance. The conclusion of this study stated that, “antioxidant concentrations correlate positively with physical performance and strength. Higher dietary intakes of most antioxidants, especially vitamin C, appear to be associated with higher skeletal muscular strength in elderly persons.”1


1. Cesari M, et al. Antioxidants and physical performance in elderly persons: the Invecchiare in Chianti (InCHIANTI) study. Am J Clin Nutr. Feb 2004;79(2):289-94.