Pomegranates have long been touted as an elixir of anti-aging, but there has been very little research that proves those claims, outside of the rich amounts of antioxidants contain. Until now, that is.
Research shows that there is a compound within pomegranates that is activated by gut bacteria. The effect of our intestinal microbes breaking down this compound results in a by-product called Urolithin A, which has been shown in research to aid muscles in protecting themselves against aging. When Urolithin A was given to Caenorhabiditis elegans worms, they lived an average lifespan that was 45% longer than the lifespan of the regular worms. When fed to elderly mice, the mice could run up to 42% further, without building any additional muscle. This change suggests that the chemical improves muscle-cell quality, not quantity.
The human trials have begun, but the findings from the worms and mice were so measurable and impressive the preliminary results have been published in Nature Medicine.
Mitochondria in our cells work kind of like batteries, powering the cells. Eventually, mitochondria degredate and fail over time, which leads to complications like muscle weakness and Parkinson’s disease. Essentially, Urolithin A (UA for short) is responsible for re-charging failing mitochondria, salvaging cells which might otherwise fail completely. “It’s the only known molecule that can relaunch the mitochondrial clean-up process, otherwise known as mitophagy,” said Patrick Aebischer, co-author on the study.
But before you run out to stock up on pomegranates, remember that the fruit don’t carry the compound, rather your gut bacteria processing it. There are those out there that do not have the right intestinal microbes for this process, or some that produce far less of the compound than others do.
The co-authors of this study founded a company to help combat this problem with a goal of creating and administering precise doses of UA to bodies directly, without the variable conversion process in the digestive system. They have already begun testing with humans in clinical trials in hospitals throughout Europe.
And for those of you that are reluctant to believe that worms and rats are good test subjects for humans, fear not: “Species that are evolutionarily quite distant, such as C elegans and the rat, react to the same substance in the same way. That’s a good indication that we’re touching here on an essential mechanism in living organisms.” So says Johan Auwerx.
The idea is to see if UA can provide the same mitochondrial-saving benefits to humans that it did in the trials. If it does, we could see UA being given to the elderly to help with muscular degeneration, amongst other ailments related to age. We may not see 45% longer lives, as we did with the rats, but we may see an extension of quality of life, and a longer period of healthy lifespans.