Aging and the Loss of Energy
By James A. Jackson, Ph.D.
To find the reasons that we age and lose our energy we need to answer several questions. The first question is, what is aging? As we age, there is a functional degeneration and loss of the body’s reserve in tissues, cells, and energy. Some of the changes of aging are inevitable and some are reversible.
… the body cannot make many of the nutrients we need to maintain good health and energy.
Three major factors associated with aging include:
1. genetic programming-which accounts for only about 30 percent of our tendency to age,
2. accumulated wear and tear on the immune and endocrine system in response to dietary, emotional, and/or environmental factors (mainly from “free radicals” or oxidants),
3. weakened immune system and the breakdown of the body’s inherent ability to repair itself.
As cells and function are lost, various biomarkers of aging start to appear.
1. loss of strength and flexibility,
2. decreased cardiovascular endurance and increased body fat, lower kidney clearance, reduced cell-mediated immunity, altered hormone levels, increased autoantibodies, and loss of energy,
3. damage to cell membranes that impair the ability of cells to transport nutrients in and waste products out of cells.
How are free radicals, or oxidants, associated with aging? In 1954, Dr. Denham Harman theorized that the aging process and the degenerative diseases that accompanied aging were caused, in part, by free radical damage. Free radicals are produced from the body’s normal use of oxygen, or from reactive oxygen compounds such as hydrogen peroxide. They can be produced from the action of UV light on the skin, medications, radiation, chemicals, pesticides, etc. Free radicals (oxidants) lack an electron and try to obtain an electron (or oxidize) from any molecule in the body, especially cell membranes, DNA, and proteins. This oxidation is what causes metal to rust and apples and potatoes to turn brown when exposed to air. In other words, if not protected properly, your body will start to “rust away.”
The amount of oxidation that the body’s tissues are exposed to is tremendous. Dr. Bruce Ames, an expert in nutrition and free radical chemistry, estimates that each of the approximately 80 trillion cells in your body suffers about 10,000 “hits” from free radicals a day. Over a period of time this free radical damage may cause genetic mutations and increase the risk for cancer and degenerative diseases (heart disease, arthritis, cataracts, etc). Free radicals tend to increase as we age. An “elderly person” has nine times the frequency of mutations as do infants. If a person lives to be 70 years old, the body may produce over 17 tons of free radicals. These, of course, have to be neutralized or destroyed, or your body will start to “rust” away. The good news is that after the age of 40 years, 75 percent of our health and life expectancy is modifiable by the selections we make concerning diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors.
As we age, we also tend to lose energy. Energy is defined as the ability to do work. In the body, energy is associated with calories (calor is the Latin word for heat). Lack of energy leads to fatigue, which is the Latin word meaning “to tire.” Some of the causes for the lack of energy are:
1. circulatory disturbances, such as heart disease, or anemia. Both of these interfere with the supply of oxygen and energy materials to tissues,
2. respiratory problems that interfere with the supply of oxygen to blood and tissues,
3. infections that produce toxic products in the body or alter metabolism,
4. hormone imbalance from diabetes, hypothyroidism, menopause, adrenal problems, etc.,
5. psychological or emotional problems such as depression, anxiety, neurosis, frustration, boredom, etc.,
6. nutritional problems that lead to a lack of carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, protein, and essential cofactors.
It is important to remember that the body cannot make many of the nutrients we need to maintain good health and energy. There are 55 essential factors that must come from the diet or as
supplements; 45 of these are nutrients.
Deficiencies of two nutrient cofactors that may cause loss of energy are L carnitine and coenzyme Q10 (CoQlO). The body can make a little of each, but the amount needed for good health and energy production are obtained through the diet or as supplements.
L-carnitine can be made in the body from a combination of two amino acids, L-lysine and L-methionine. There are four other micronutrients necessary for the body to produce L-carnitine. These are iron, vitamins C, B6 , and B3. Therefore, if one is deficient in one of these micro-nutrients, there will be a deficiency of L-carnitine. L-carnitine is located near the mitochondrial membrane. The mitochondria are the “powerhouse” of your cells. Each cell contains about 1000 to 1500 mitochondria, which are like the cylinders in your car engine. L-camitine helps produce energy (ATP) by transporting long chain fatty acids (LCFA) in the mitochondria. L-carnitine acts like a spark plug to bum gasoline (acetyl-carntineandacetylCoA)and produce energy in the form of ATP.
With no ATP, there is no energy.
The average adult body contains about one ounce of L-carnitine and the average half-life in the blood is about 2 to 15 hours. Carnitine comes from the Latin word “Carnis,” meaning flesh. It is not surprising that animal meats, especially beef (120 mgs carnitine/100 gms) and pork (85 mgs carnitine/100 gms) are very high in carnitine. Dairy products are also high in L-carnitine. Plants, on the other hand, are very low in carnitine. Since a lot of energy is needed for muscles and heart, it is not surprising that the heart and skeletal muscles contain over 95 percent of the body’s supply of L-carnitine. L-camitine is very protective of the heart. It helps with congestive heart failure, increases the heart ejection and increases coronary blood flow by 60 percent. L-carnitine also improved symptoms in patients on long-term dialysis. Patients receiving 0.5 gms a day showed improved energy, less aches, cramps, and weakness. Another important function of L-carnitine is that it is a very potent antioxidant and destroys free radicals. Best of all, there are few side effects from long-term use of L-carnitine.
Another nutrient necessary to help maintain energy is Coenzyme Q10 (COQ10). COQ10 is chemically a fat soluble quinone and is classified as a co-enzyme. Co-enzymes are necessary for enzymes to work. COQ10 was discovered in 1940 and is structurally related to vitamin K. CoQ10, like L-carnitine, is located in the mitochondria and is important in producing ATP. It is a very strong antioxidant and may inhibit certain enzymes involved in the formation of free radicals. There are various forms of CoQ, from CoQ6 to CoQ10 however, only CoQ10 is found in mammals. The average adult body contains only about O.5 to 1.5 gms of CoQ 10. The average half-life in blood is very short, about 34 hours. The highest concentrations are found in the heart, liver, adrenal glands, spleen, kidney, and pancreas. The body can make about 6 mgs of COQ10 in the liver a day and the diet can furnish about 4 mgs a day; however, researchers estimate that a “normal” person needs about 90 mgs a day and a “sick” person may need up to 300 mgs of COQ10 a day.
COQ10 decreases with age and a loss of energy may be associated with altered CoQ10 availability. We do know that when cellular COQ10 is low, aging accelerates in all individuals and degenerative diseases start to appear. Low levels of COQ10 have been associated with congestive heart failure, cardiomyopathy, hypertension, cancer, periodontal disease, male infertility, and miscarriage. It has also been shown that when 2 mgs/kg of CoQ10 was given to patients for one year, there were reduced hospital admissions for worsening heart failure and less pulmonary edema in a treated group when compared to a placebo group. Also, there have been no serious side effects reported with long term use of CoQ10. Several million patients in Japan have been takingCOQ10
for years with no side effects.
So what have we learned about these two nutrients dealing with aging and loss of energy? Both compounds are necessary in energy production and act as free radical, or oxidant, scavengers. Both tend to decrease with age. Research shows that when taken together a synergistic effect occurs between the two compounds. Both CoQ10 and L-carnitine have a very low toxic profile and may be used to treat or prevent a number of diseases and increase energy. Of course, exercise and other lifestyle changes may also improve your energy.