Dr. Michael Ristow, a professor of energy metabolism at ETH Zurich, bases much of his research into aging on a premise that many of us will find surprising: the free radicals that our cells produce while making energy are not only not harmful, but can even slow the body’s aging down. But while that might surprise us, it’s no secret to the many aging researchers who investigate a phenomenon known as hormesis, a principle we all exploit (whether we know it or not) when we exercise, go on a diet, or hit the sauna. So what’s really behind this effect–and more importantly, how can we leverage it for human health?
Dr. Ristow, how is energy metabolism relevant to aging?
So my background was clinical medicine, where I specialized in diabetes and obesity, which are obviously closely related to metabolism. And in my lab we started getting more and more focused on mitochondria and converting nutrients into cellular energy, which lead to interest in aging. At the time, the free radicals, or reactive oxygen species, that mitochondria produce was assumed to be a byproduct which served no purpose, or rather did damage.
Right, the “free radical theory of aging”–where is that