Since ages pomegranates have been touted as a superfood that can counteract the aging process. However, there were practically no scientific researches to back such claims until now. A team of researchers from EPFL and the company Amazentis decided to find out the facts about this plump pink by delving deeper into it. Their research revealed that a molecule in pomegranates, transformed by microbes in the gut, enables muscle cells to protect themselves against one of the major causes of aging. While human trials are in the process, the effect noted in nematodes and rodents, is quite encouraging.
The initial findings have been published in the journal Nature Medicine.
Aging happens because over the years our cells losses their capabilities to recycle their powerhouse – mitochondria. Since, it cannot carry out its vital functions, waste accumulation starts in the cells which affect the health of many tissues resulting in their weakening over the years. It is also believed that buildup of dysfunctional mitochondria play a role in other again related diseases, like Parkinson’s disease.
The researchers discovered a molecule – urolithin A, which was capable of re-establishing the cell’s capacity to recycle the components of the defective mitochondria – a process called mitophagy. Patrick Aebischer, co-author on the study added that is a completely natural substance and its effect are powerful and measurable. The team carried out their hypothesis on the nematode C. elegans – a favorite test subject among aging experts as at the age of just 8-10 days it is considered elderly. When the worms were exposed to urolithin A, their lifespan increased by more than 45% compared with the control group.
The results encouraged the team to test the molecule on rodents. A significant reduction in the number of redundant mitochondria was observed in the rodents, indicating that a robust cellular recycling process was taking place. Older mice showed 42% better endurance while running than equally old mice in the control group.
While it might be tempting for you to head out and stock up on pomegranates, it must be remembered that the fruit doesn’t contain the miracle molecule, but rather its precursor. It gets converted into Urolithin A by the microbes in the intestine. So, the amount of urolithin A produced will depend on the species of animal and the flora present in the gut microbiome. So, not every individual will have the same result.
If you are one who doesn’t have the right microbes in the gut, don’t worry, scientists are already working on a solution. The study’s co-authors founded a start-up company, Amazentis, which has developed a method to deliver finely calibrated doses of urolithin A. The first clinical trials testing of the molecule in humans are underway in European hospitals.
Johan Auwerx, study’s co-author opined that it seems likely that Urolithin A will be effective in humans as well. To back his notion, he adds that species that are evolutionarily quite distant, like C elegans and the rat, react to the substance in the same way and that is a good indication. The function of Urolithin A is the result of tens of millions of years of parallel evolution between plants, bacteria and animals. Chris Rinsch, co-author and CEO of Amazentis, adds that this evolutionary process explains the molecule’s effectiveness. Nuts and berries also contain the precursors to Urolithin A in tiny amount. However, in order for it to be produced in our intestines, the bacteria should be able to break down what we are eating. Through digestion when a substance is produced that is of benefit to us, natural selection favors both the bacteria involved and their host.
The researchers reiterated that their objective is to follow strict clinical validations, so that everyone can benefit from this discovery. This could help fight and counteract effects of aging. Since, it works by helping the body renew itself, urolithin A could well succeed where so many pharmaceutical products, most of which have tried to increase muscle mass, have failed.
Auwerx opined that these studies could change the way aging is seen in medical world. Since, it is a nutritional approach, it opens up territory that traditional pharma has never explored. It’s a true shift in the scientific paradigm.
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