Described as a potential “game-changer for human health”, a recently discovered molecule is improving muscle strength, improving symptoms of neurological disease and boosting the lifespan of sick laboratory animals by over 40 percent.
Researchers believe it works by supercharging your cells’ mitochondria, and in the process, is helping solve one of the root causes of aging.
This molecule is called Urolithin A and it’s a metabolite— or a compound produced as a result of the digestion of nutrients called ellagitannins, which are prevalent in foods like pomegranate.
Researchers believe Urolithin A has the power to rejuvenate aging mitochondria, by boosting a process called mitophagy.
You might recall that mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell and are located in virtually every cell apart from red blood cells. But their functions go well beyond the production of cellular energy, and they’re important to a broad range of biological processes.
When mitochondria become dysfunctional, not only is less energy produced, but blood sugar levels can become unbalanced and the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer rises.
Mitochondrial dysfunction has also emerged as one of the root causes of aging, so maintaining mitochondrial health has become an important strategy for staying healthy and preventing aging-related diseases.
A key way of achieving mitochondrial health is by promoting mitophagy. As we age, mitochondria get damaged and have to be cleared away and recycled. This process – called mitophagy – becomes less efficient around the age of 40.
As a result, mitochondria become less bioenergetically optimal – akin to batteries that get run down – and cells function less well. Urolithin A recharges your mitochondrial batteries, so to speak, and restores mitophagy.
Increased Lifespan in Healthy Subjects by 50 Percent
After seeing positive effects in cellular studies, scientists in Switzerland tested Urolithin A in C. elegans worms. They found the molecule increased the worms’ lifespan by 50 percent.
What’s more, the worms remained active and energetic throughout the study.
Next, they tried Urolithin A in mice. The mice receiving Urolithin A were able to run 40 percent farther and longer. Even in older mice, Urolithin A increased muscle strength by ten percent and muscle endurance shot up by a whopping forty percent.
The big question was whether these positive findings would translate to humans.
After a one month trial of Urolithin A in 60 healthy older people, mitochondrial gene expression increased in skeletal muscle tissue, thus demonstrating that the benefits did indeed translate to humans.
In addition, biomarkers in blood plasma changed, showing the effects are systemic and not just confined to muscle tissue. In particular, there was a drop in acylcarnitines, which are specific biomarkers of mitochondrial dysfunction and are linked to a number of illnesses of aging. This demonstrated that mitochondrial health was improving.
In fact, in a four-month randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial in healthy participants aged 40 to 65, daily consumption of 500 mg of Urolithin A led to meaningful physiological changes in the body and significantly improved leg muscle strength.
The result of the trial was described by one of the Swiss research team, Patrick Aebischer M.D., as “a breakthrough in the translation of science-backed nutrition targeting muscle and healthy aging.”
His colleague Johan Auwerx added that “Urolithin A could be a game-changer for human health.”
But Can it Help Cure Disease?
In the Swiss team’s latest study published in April, Urolithin A was tested on mice with muscular dystrophy, a condition characterized by progressive muscle degeneration and reduced life expectancy.
The results were dramatic. Urolithin A restored mitophagy to normal, reduced muscle damage and improved muscle health and performance. It also lowered fibrosis in the heart by 35 percent and in the diaphragm by 39 percent, increased grip strength by 31 percent, improved running performance by 45 percent and helped the mice live 40 percent longer.
These are remarkable results. Of course, much more study is needed. Nonetheless, their science is impressive and there are several hundred pre-clinical studies from research groups around the world demonstrating the benefits of Urolithin A.
How to Get Urolithin A
The good news is that the precursor to Urolithin A is found in pomegranates, nuts and certain berries. The bad news is that it has to be converted in the gut and most people do not have the bacteria needed to make the conversion.
Specifically, Urolithin A is produced in the gut following consumption of ellagitannins and ellagic acid-rich foods, like pomegranate. While eating pomegranate can increase your levels, the science shows it doesn’t always happen, mainly due to poor gut health.
For example, within 24 hours of drinking an eight ounce glass of pomegranate juice only 40 percent of study participants were able to make the conversion from ellagitannins to Urolithin A in the gut sufficient to bring about an increase in Urolithin A levels in the blood.
That’s why scientists are now testing nutritional supplements of Urolithin A. Researchers from Rush and Northwestern Universities in Chicago compared consumption of a fruit-flavored food sachet containing 500 mg of Urolithin A mixed in yogurt, with an eight ounce glass of pomegranate juice in 100 healthy adults aged 18 to 80. They found that, after 24 hours, those eating the yogurt had levels that were six times higher than those drinking the juice.
The Swiss scientists have developed a nutritional product called Mitopure that delivers Urolithin A directly, bypassing the need for the right gut bacteria.
The Swiss team have Navindra Seeram as their scientific advisor. Dr. Seeram is a world authority on plants and products derived from them and is one of the most highly cited scientists in agricultural sciences. He describes Mitopure as “a trailblazer.”
At the time of writing Mitopure can only be purchased in powder form to be mixed in drinks or yogurt but will soon be available as softgels. Details at https://www.timelinenutrition.com/