Is the fountain of youth real? Eternal youth is a concept that has tantalized humanity since we could first conceive the idea. Watching our family and friends, and indeed ourselves, grow old is something we all must experience, but almost all of us will have wished at some point we could slow, or even stop, the process. So why do we age, and is there anything we can do to slow it down?
Biological aging, also called “senescence”, is a major part of the field of study known as gerontology and is defined as: “a progressive deterioration of physiological function, an intrinsic age-related process of loss of viability and increase in vulnerability”. Indeed, as we age, the risk of developing most serious diseases increases greatly, and many of these serious conditions are now classed as “aging-related diseases”. The effects of senescence are therefore by far the leading cause of death, with approximately 65% of all deaths attributed to age-related causes. In industrialized countries, this figure increases to as much as 90%.
So why does this happen? Some scientists believe it’s simply our genes; that we are programmed to deteriorate. But others in the scientific community believe that it’s mostly due to cell damage that we accumulate over time. The energy our cells need to function and grow is provided by tiny organelles within our cells called “mitochondria”. These cellular batteries combine the oxygen we breathe and the food we eat to produce “ATP”, the molecule which provides over 95% of the cellular energy needed to power all living functions. During the generation of ATP, highly reactive molecules known as “free radicals” are produced as a by-product. Mitochondria are usually very good at keeping these free radicals in check by using their built-in antioxidant molecule known as CoQ10 to neutralize them. However, as we age, our mitochondrial function starts to decline and their reserves of CoQ10 start to diminish.
Where we are today
Understanding the root of the problem is almost everything in science. With new knowledge of mitochondrial function possible solutions have emerged. MitoQ (mitoquinol mesylate) is a mitochondria-targeted antioxidant; a patented formulation of CoQ10 developed at The University of Otago in New Zealand. While traditional CoQ10 supplements are not able to effectively penetrate the mitochondrial membrane to replenish vital antioxidant stores; MitoQ is CoQ10 bound to a positively-charged ion which enables attraction to, and active uptake inside, negatively charged mitochondria. This enables MitoQ to reach mitochondrial concentrations hundreds of times higher than standard CoQ10, providing a huge antioxidant boost which assists in restoring mitochondrial function and optimum energy production.
The “Free Radical Theory of Aging” postulates that we (and almost all other organisms) age due to cumulative free radical damage to our cells over time. It postulates that as our cellular machinery and our DNA become damaged, our cells divide and take copies of the corrupted DNA into the new cells. More free radical damage occurs in the new cells and this damage only increases with ongoing generations of cells. Eventually the cells become nonviable and start to die off.
These free radicals attack the mitochondria and cell membrane structure, disturb DNA and RNA production and destroy important cellular enzymes. Known as “oxidative stress”, this damage is linked to mutations, reduced cellular function and eventual cell death. Oxidative stress has been identified as a significant contributor or consequence of well over 200 health conditions. These include many of the serious and most prevalent conditions of the cardiovascular, neurological, musculoskeletal, digestive and immune systems.
Given this, an obvious hypothesis arises. If you can slow the production of free radicals and reduce oxidative damage, you might be able slow or even reverse the effects of aging. In fact, when you say it plainly like that it doesn’t even seem complicated or impossible.
Where we could be tomorrow
For example, The University of Colorado conducted a study in mice using MitoQ treatment to reduce the negative effects of aging on arteries. Old mice, the equivalent of humans in their 70s or 80s were given MitoQ in their water. After four weeks their arteries functioned like the age equivalent of a human between 25 and 35.
“One of the hallmarks of primary aging is endothelial dysfunction,” said Rachel Gioscia-Ryan, a doctoral student in CU-Boulder’s Department of Integrative Physiology and lead author of the new study. “MitoQ completely restored endothelial function in the old mice. They looked like young mice.”
An early study by Saretzki & Murphy et al showed that MitoQ was able to prolong the lifespan of cultured human cells and slowed telomere shortening, a hallmark of the cellular aging process. Further preclinical studies of mitochondria-targeted antioxidants in fruit flies and flatworms also showed significant increases in lifespan. Many more studies in cell lines, mice and rats have shown promising results in supporting cellular and organ function.
MitoQ was recently selected for the US Department of Health’s Institute on Aging Intervention Testing Program, an exclusive study investigating the most promising potential lifespan extending agents. Two advisory boards, consisting of the world’s finest minds in anti-aging, oversee the program and must be convinced that a compound will have impact on aging. The aim of the study is to identify interventions that can create at least a 10-15% gain in life span in mice.
The fountain of youth isn’t a fountain but it may be real. It’s impossible to reverse your age but it looks promising that in time scientists will be able to reverse some of the effects. So start planning for retirement now because we may all live to 120.
Featured in The Huffington Post 26/07/16
Jeff Barrett, The Huffington Post