In the fairytale “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” it only took two times for the young shepherd boy to mislead the villagers before the villagers would no longer respond to his false cries. One can only assume that the villagers in this tale were not as naïve as anti-agers.

Anti-agers repeatedly respond to various misleading anti-aging claims. Regardless how many times anti-aging claims have turned out to be false, anti-agers continue to respond. The latest is a Nov. 9, Penn State press release stating, “Mushrooms are full of antioxidants that may have anti-aging potential.” Due to the anti-aging claim, the attention given to it by the national media was extensive. Here are a few examples:

  • WebMD: “Best Foods for Your Anti-Aging Diet”
  • Science Daily: “Mushrooms are full of antioxidants that may have anti-aging potential”
  • CBS Sacramento: “Mushrooms may be the ‘fountain of youth’ food”
  • Men’s Health: “Eat this food and help your body fight aging”
  • Newsweek: “Why mushrooms may be the best food to help fight aging.”

Now, I am not suggesting that mushrooms are not good for you; that is a given. The problem here, as usual, is the hype being attached to the edible fungus we like so much on our pizza as well as other dishes.

Let’s look at this highly publicized Penn State study and separate the fairy tale portion from the facts. The Penn State press release baits consumers with the title, “Mushrooms are full of antioxidants that may have anti-aging [my emphasis] potential,” and then states, “When the body uses food to produce energy, it also causes oxidative stress because some free radicals are produced [my emphases].”

Free radicals and aging: For whatever reason, this myth will not die. As far back as 2002, this myth of free radicals playing a major role in human aging was addressed – in the “Position Statement on Human Aging” published by Scientific American on May 13, 2002. It was a “consensus statement from 51 internationally recognized scientists in the field about what we know and do not know about intervening in human aging.” This report stated:

“The scientifically respected free-radical theory of aging serves as a basis for the prominent role that antioxidants have in the anti-aging movement. … The logic used by their proponents reflects a misunderstanding of how cells detect and repair the damage caused by free radicals and the important role that free radicals play in normal physiological processes (such as immune response and cell communication).”

Free radicals have unfairly become synonymous with tissue damage, decay, aging, cancer and death. In fact, they are a normal byproduct of many biological processes; they are part of the everyday life of a cell; and the body requires a balance between normal and excessive production of free radicals to maintain good health. They are involved in eliminating cancerous and other life-threatening cells through a process called apoptosis, programmed cell death, which is triggered by free radicals. Muscle tissue produces them during exercise, where they act as a signaling mechanism that triggers the muscle tissue to adapt to the training load.

Magical antioxidants and oxidative stress: The endless search for magical compounds in food, such as antioxidants, has been an area of interest for decades. However, it is the synergistic effects of all the phytochemicals in food that provide the benefit, not an isolated compound. As an example, researchers at Cornell University in 2000 illustrated this with apples and the proliferation rates of colon cancer cells. They found that the “antioxidant” in apples, vitamin C, was responsible for only a small portion of the anti-cancer activity, if any. Instead, they demonstrated that it was the phytochemical mixture from the whole apple that provided the real health benefits. Cornell researchers “found that eating 100 grams of fresh apple with skins provided a total antioxidant activity equal to 1,500 mg of vitamin C,” even though a typical 100-gram apple only contains 4.6 mg of it.

Anti-aging: It is understandable why so many consumers respond to the anti-aging hype, because no one embraces the aging process with pleasure. It can be loaded with physical ailments, significant changes in physical appearance and the never-ending list of things one can no longer do. So, it is of no surprise that every time the term “anti-aging” pops up in a media headline, millions of consumers are likely to pay attention.

When one’s worldview embraces the current lifespan as “this is it,” then attempting to hang onto that life for as long as possible, looking and feeling as youthful as possible, is understandable. Many become consumed by the process and essentially turn their anti-aging efforts into their god or new religion. Sadly, an anti-aging obsession reflects a despair some people have because they have no hope beyond what they can embrace presently, no eternal perspective.

I sometimes hear people mention that God had it backwards when He made us. That is, people will say we should have had our old bodies when in our youth due to the lack of wisdom, and our youthful bodies in our old age when we are mature enough to appreciate and take care of them. However, as we age and our youthfulness slips through our fingers, it is an opportunity for millions to recognize their growing deficiencies and to be more open to the Gospel. Consider the arrogance that would result if, with aging, you became more physically adept. How many after the age of 40 would begin to really appreciate the physical aspects of what Christ has in store for them? The purpose of trials is to bring us to our knees, make us pray, listen and grow, and give us the wisdom and perspective that only comes through our struggles and a view of life that can only come from our knees.

Enjoy your mushrooms but don’t expect any magic.

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