Who would have thought that bodybuilders might have a secret anti-aging weapon tucked away in their gym bags?
Researchers have discovered that a favorite supplement of the muscle-bound also promotes healthy aging and extends life span … at least in mice.
Now, normally, I don’t dig into such early stage research, but this study piqued my interest, and you’re about to see why. If it turns out to work even half as well in humans as it does in mice, it will revolutionize anti-aging medicine.
At Buck Institute for Research on Aging, in Novato, California, scientists are encouraged by laboratory research into the supplement alpha-ketoglutarate (AKG).
It’s a molecule that’s naturally made in our own bodies as a source of the nutrient glutamate. AKG is formed in the Krebs cycle, the energy-producing process that occurs in most body cells, where it plays a vital role in metabolism — the conversion of food into energy.
AKG stops the breakdown of protein in muscle tissue. By stopping this protein breakdown, AKG performs many functions, such as stimulating the production of protein and collagen, enhancing bone formation, and speeding up the healing of wounds.
For example, a controlled study found that intravenous AKG prevented a decline in protein synthesis in the muscles of patients recovering from surgery.
For these reasons, it has been thought that oral AKG supplements might help boost strength or muscle mass gains by bodybuilders. While some bodybuilders swear by it, it’s important to point out that no research has been done to test this theory.
However, the research into AKG’s anti-aging benefits is underway and the results are promising, to say the least.
Lifespan Improved by More than 50 Percent
To date, research has shown that AKG extends the lifespan of the worm C. elegans by more than 50 percent by acting on the metabolic pathway that generates energy.
The process is similar to being on a very low-calorie diet. Experiments in a large number of species, including primates, have shown lifespan extensions of up to 300 percent with severe calorie restriction.
Jim Huang, from the University of California, Los Angeles, led the worm study. In his view, “metabolism and aging are intimately linked. Metabolites such as AKG that can alter C elegans’ lifespan suggest an internal mechanism may exist that is accessible to intervention.”
Since AKG is not available in food, and blood levels can fall ten-fold between the ages of 40 and 80 as the body grows older, researchers wanted to know if a dietary supplement could extend human life.
This time, they tested the theory in mice.
A Research First: Healthspan Boosted by More than 40 Percent
The new study was published in the journal Cell Metabolism in September by researchers at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.
Middle-aged mice, at the age equivalent of about 55 in human years, had AKG added to their food for the rest of their natural lives. The aim was to restore blood levels to those seen in younger mice. Another group of mice acted as controls.
The effects on the supplemented mice quickly became apparent, especially in the females. Fur color and coat were enhanced dramatically. The mice moved better, spinal curvature improved, as did a measure of pain and comfort. They were also better able to groom themselves.
Male mice were better able to maintain muscle mass and experienced improvement in gait and grip strength, better eye health and fewer tumors.
What’s more, the AKG-fed mice scored 40 percent better on tests of “frailty,” as measured by 31 physiological attributes including hair color, hearing, walking gait, and grip strength.
On average, mice lived 12 percent longer, and measures of healthspan — the period of life spent in good health, free from the chronic diseases and disabilities of aging — increased by more than 40 percent.
Researchers say this dramatic improvement is a first for research involving mammals.
Why did the mice fare so well? Researchers discovered AKG supplementation stopped inflammation.
“The mice that were fed AKG showed a decrease in levels of systemic inflammatory cytokines,” explained lead scientist AzarAsadiShahmirzadi. “Treatment with AKG promoted the production of Interleukin 10 which has anti-inflammatory properties and helps maintain normal tissue homeostasis.
“Chronic inflammation is a huge driver of aging. We think suppression of inflammation could be the basis for the extension of lifespan and probably healthspan, and are looking forward to more follow up in this regard.
“We observed no significant adverse effects upon chronic administration of the metabolite, which is very important.”
Another senior author, Dr. Gordon Lithgow, added, “The standard for efficacy in research on aging is whether interventions actually improve healthspan. We’ve reached that mark here…
“The nightmare scenario has always been life extension with no reduction in disability. In this study, the treated middle-aged mice got healthier over time. Even the mice that died early saw improvements in their health, which was really surprising and encouraging.”
A human trial is now being planned, but one company isn’t waiting.
Supplement Reduced Biological Age by Eight Years
One company has already developed an AKG supplement for life extension purposes. It’s called Rejuvant and was developed by Florida based Ponce De Leon Health, in conjunction with the Buck Institute.
The results of a very small pilot study of 17 customers taking the supplement for four to six months showed an average reduction in biological age of 8.5 years. This was measured by way of a DNA biomarker test.
These results are pretty remarkable, but Matt Kaeberlein, an aging biologist and Professor of Pathology at the University of Washington in Seattle, has some doubts on human supplementation. “I’m unlikely to take AKG until I see some compelling clinical data showing benefits,” says Prof. Kaeberlein. “It is my opinion that AKG is likely to be safe, but it is possible there are side effects.”
Holly Brown-Borg, an aging researcher at the University of North Dakota, agrees that the safety record of AKG is “really high”. Even so, she too wouldn’t take it.
“I’m a skeptic. Personally, I wouldn’t do it.”
I would love to achieve these incredible boosts in health and lifespan – now! — but I agree with both of these scientists that we need to be cautious.
Until there are more conclusive findings on all of the effects of supplementing with AKG, I’m going to stay away. Instead, I’ll focus on proven healthy aging habits, such as good diet, exercise, healthy sleep and stress management.