Will A Pill Keep Us Young? What the Research is Saying
Aug 31, 2016 02:00PM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
No doubt, there are lot of claims, treatments, and products out there that promise to do just that—help us look and feel younger, most with marginal or temporary degrees of success. The skincare aisle alone with its seemingly endless array of topical applications is confusing enough to actually give you wrinkles trying to sort it all out.
What we’re talking about here goes beyond skincare, though, certainly well beyond how we look. We often hear about the associations of health and youth, but what if health could become more synonymous with aging itself? This was the question that has kept some of the world’s leading researchers including those at Harvard and MIT busy for decades in their labs trying to find out.
What They Found OutOur physical self, according to Smithsonian.com, is made up of trillions of cells. The health of these cells is critical to our metabolic processes. Healthy cells can detoxify themselves, repair DNA, and produce energy. As we age, the cells have a harder and harder time doing this.
What has been touted as a breakthrough in the science of aging happened when researchers determined that there is a key co-enzyme in cells called Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide, or NAD+, that is critical for cell health as it controls the level of sirtuin proteins in the cells. (There are seven sirtuin proteins at work in our cells at any given time and researchers continue to investigate the role these proteins have on longevity.)
As levels of NAD+ begin to drop, so does the communication within the cells to repair themselves, glean nutrients from the foods we eat, and produce the energy needed to ward off major illnesses, such as heart disease and cancers, that plague people’s latter years.
Of Mice & Men: A StudyIt has been nearly three years since the results of a landmark study at Harvard were released which pinpointed a seminal cause of aging at the cellular level. Researchers discovered that there is a series of molecular events that cause communication to take place between the nucleus and the cell’s mitochondria. NAD+ enhances that communication. Scientists used this research to recreate NAD+ in the lab and then injected it into the cells of two-year-old mice. The result: in just one week the cells in the mice took on the profiles of mice just six months old.
Tapping The ScienceOnce the communication process of the cell was discovered and researchers were able to replicate NAD+ in the lab, which, in effect, tricked the cells into thinking they are younger, a delivery vehicle for human use needed to be developed.
And while scientific breakthroughs sound exciting and we certainly can be encouraged by findings coming from our prestigious research labs, the process of developing a drug that “treats aging” seems forever away when you consider the rigorous clinical trial process a drug in development goes through. Drug companies themselves are taking the scientific research and applying them to drugs now in those trials to treat specific age-related illnesses.
Another GoalThis is where we stand now as far as the status of an FDA-approved anti-aging drug is concerned. However, one formidable group of researchers led by Dr. Leonard Guarente, Novartis Professor of Biology at the Paul F. Glenn Center for Science of Aging Research at MIT, and includes five prestigious Nobel Prize-winning peers, felt strongly enough about their findings, they sought to move forward more quickly.
Guarente’s team developed a cell-enhancing supplement that would not require FDA approval and partnered with a two-investor start-up they would call Elysium Health. The supplement, known as BASIS, is currently, albeit quietly, on the market. There are two key components in BASIS, Nicotinamide Riboside and Pterostilbene, that encourage the production of NAD+ in our cells.
But rather than promoting a fountain of youth-type formulation and tapping into the fears of aging to attract consumers, Elysium Health, is marketing their product as something you can be taking to increase your “health span”—meaning feeling and actually being healthier, longer.
Guarente and his Elysium Health partners, two former Silicon Valley tech investors, Eric Marcotulli and Dan Alminana, are now seen as trailblazers in the ant-aging industry for applying what was learned in the lab and adapting it for use in a supplement. Supplements, however, are an unregulated $20 billion industry with a shaky track record at best, so the partners knew there could be a built-in perception of wariness to overcome.
If the positive feedback reported continues, however, the trust placed in the supplement by early consumers and the distinguished reputation of MIT research may, indeed, have us taking a daily pill to enhance our “health spans.”