Scientists believe oxidated stress can accelerate the aging process. Oxidants naturally occur in the body and it's unclear exactly what effect they have. Dr. Eric Klann is a professor of molecular physiology at Baylor College of Medicine.
"There's a lot of disagreement in the human literature, I believe, on whether antioxidants are beneficial or not."
Scientists may be a long way away from understanding the full effects of antioxidants, but Klann recently made a breakthrough in his research. He studies memory performance in aging mice and found that increased levels of antioxidants in the older mice resulted in improvements in memory function.
"Any time you make a finding where you can improve a memory I think it's very exciting. The focus of my lab is to study some of the molecular mechanisms that underlie memory processes. And so it's very seldom that you find some change in an animal that actually improves memory. You can find plenty of things that will decrease memory."
But while the antioxidants helped improve memory in older mice, Klann's research shows younger mice benefited from higher levels of oxidants and even suffered memory loss when those levels were lowered.
"There's an age-related shift in what role oxidants play with respect to memory. When they're -- when mice are young, oxidants seem to play a positive role with respect to memory processes but as animals age it seems that the oxidants now play a role in some of the impairments that occur with aging."
Klann says linking antioxidants to memory functions could have implications for neurodegenerative diseases and dementia. But the research is in very early stages and what works in mice may not necessarily transfer to humans. Klann's findings were published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.