Live long and prosper? Experimental compound could slow down the aging process

There’s plenty of interest in life extension technologies in Silicon Valley right now. (And, let’s face it, probably the rest of the world, too!) While researchers have yet to find a true fountain of eternal youth, however, scientists at EPFL (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) and the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics appear to have gotten one step closer with the discovery of a metabolite of biomolecules which could help slow the aging process.

A newly published study in the journal Nature Metabolism showcases the promising properties of a compound called urolithin A (UA). This compound contains biomolecules that are found in fruits such as pomegranates. Although it won’t stop aging altogether, the hope is that UA could slow the aging process by improving the functioning of mitochondria, small organelles which float freely through cells to keep them full of energy. As humans age, our bodies naturally lose the ability to clean up dysfunctional mitochondria, thereby resulting in weakening tissues and a loss of skeletal muscle mass.

For their study, the researchers tried out the compound on around 60 elderly people, all of whom were in good health but living sedentary lifestyles. Participants were split into four groups, with one group given a placebo, and the others given doses of UA in either 250 mg, 500 mg or 1,000 mg quantities. This was continued for 28 days. The results showed that UA stimulates a process by which the body increases its mitochondrial mass. This is much the same thing that happens with regular exercise but, you know, without the regular exercise part of it. The study also demonstrated that ingesting a UA compound was no risk to human health.

“These latest findings, which build on previous preclinical trials, really crystallize how UA could be a game-changer for human health,” Johan Auwerx, a professor in the EPFL lab involved with the trial, said in a statement.

This is just the latest piece of research showing the potentially beneficial nature of UA. Previous studies have shown that it is possible to extend the lifespan of certain worms exposed by 45%, as well as giving mice better endurance. Sure, the lifespan of those animals is very short compared to a human (a nematode worm lives for just a couple of months.) Still, it joins a growing body of evidence suggesting that we may not have to accept our current predicted lifespan for too much longer. We eagerly await additional human trials in the future.

Until then, we guess we’ll just have to settle for the promise of robots looking after us when we get old.

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