I look through a lot of medical studies in my quest to tell you about ways to slow down aging and keep your body in peak condition. Most of these studies increase our knowledge about aging in small increments, nudging the field forward a little bit at a time.
But in my explorations I sometimes find research that brings me up short and makes me stop and really take notice.
I recently got such a jolt from a study showing that a popular fruit, already well-known for its heart benefits, may be able to extend life expectancy by an eye-popping 40 percent.
That kind of life extension is pretty spectacular! If it holds up, it means a person with life expectancy of 80 could make it to 112 instead. That kind of result is nearly unheard of in aging research.
It’s also quite a stretch. And the study was a lab test. But still, if this one fruit buys you even five or ten more years it would be a spectacular result.
The fruit being examined is the pomegranate. While anti-aging researchers already know that pomegranate has great natural chemicals that boost health, even they are stunned by its life-extending potential.
Gives Your Mitochondria a Boost
The latest research demonstrates that much of pomegranate’s ability to counteract the aging process resides in its relationship to mitochondria – the vital little fuel pumps in cells that power cellular processes. As we grow older, the deterioration of our mitochondria can make us vulnerable to a long list of illnesses and conditions.
When individual mitochondria wear out, they are supposed to be dismantled and their components recycled by the body. Otherwise, when they sit like junked cars left along a city street, dysfunctional mitochondria can obstruct the life-giving processes that take place in a cell.
And those junked up mitochondria do nothing but bad things to your cells.
But scientists in Switzerland have found that when you eat pomegranates, your gut bacteria use the nutrients in the fruit to produce urolithin A, a natural substance that is like a towing service for old mitochondria.
“It’s the only known molecule that can relaunch the mitochondrial clean-up process, otherwise known as mitophagy,” says researcher Patrick Aebischer. “It’s a completely natural substance, and its effect is powerful and measurable.”
Now, the Swiss researchers point out that it’s not clear how much urolithin A you will end up with in your body after you eat pomegranates. This substance is made by the probiotic bacteria in your digestive tract from other nutrients contained in pomegranates. So the level of benefit you can derive depends on which microbes are living in your intestines.
Even with that caveat, the results of their investigations are impressive. As I noted before, in some animals, urolithin A increases lifespan by more than 40 percent. In other animals, the improvements in their mitochondria expands aerobic endurance by more than 40 percent, probably because the mitochondrial changes helped muscles produce extra power more efficiently.
Pomegranates Have Remarkable Power
This Swiss research is an addition to other studies that show pomegranates should be in everyone’s anti-aging arsenal. Pomegranates and pomegranate juice have also been shown to:
- Protect the brain against oxidative stress that can harm neurons. Studies show it can help preserve your thinking powers and resist at least some of the damage to brain tissue that may be caused by consuming high-fructose corn syrup and being overweight.
- Help your muscles recover from strenuous exercise. Tests on weight lifters show that pomegranate compounds promote muscles’ antioxidant defenses against injury after a workout.
Right now, the Swiss researchers are hoping to make a supplement that can convey the benefits of pomegranate’s urolithin A. I don’t know if they’ll be successful, but I do know you should be consuming pomegranates.
This is a good time to buy them because the pomegranate season goes from about October to January (in California). And at all times of the year you can enjoy a glass of pomegranate juice. Fair warning: It’s quite sweet and you should take that into account if you have high blood sugar. One glass a day is considered adequate for the rest of us.