The dream of a long, healthy and energetic lifespan has come one step closer thanks to breakthrough research.
The promising anti-aging strategy is to clear old, damaged cells from the body. These are called senescent cells but I think of them as “zombie” cells. They build up in our tissues, promote chronic inflammation and go hand in hand with the so-called diseases of aging.
Like the creatures in those popular horror movies, legions of zombie cells take over the body and kill off healthy tissue – and eventually us.
Scientists have been mystified by the exact role of the immune system in this process — until now. The new findings show immune activity plays a key role in removing these harmful, lingering molecules, and the discovery could lead to a new therapy to help us live longer.
Strong Immune System Equals Fewer Senescent Cells
Molecular biologist Valery Krithanovsky from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel is convinced that targeting senescent cells and eliminating them from the body with drugs called senolytics will prove to be a fruitful anti-aging strategy.
He’s already done successful animal research to show it’s possible.
For his latest study, he wanted to take this further by first investigating whether impaired immune surveillance leads to a failure to get rid of these cells, and then by looking at the effect of a particular senolytic.
For the first experiment, he and his colleagues used mice in which a gene was switched off that is believed to help the immune system target senescent cells. These were compared to a control group of mice in which the gene was intact.
After two years, which is old age for mice, the missing gene group had a greater accumulation of senescent cells. They also had higher levels of inflammation, increased tissue damage and loss of organ function. They were less active, had excessive spinal curvature, appeared older and died earlier than the mice with the healthy, functioning gene.
“Now we know it is the immune system that keeps senescent cells in check,” proclaimed the scientist.
Reducing Chronic Inflammation Extends Life
In the second experiment, the researchers gave one group of mice a drug that inhibits the function of proteins that help senescent cells survive. They hoped the action of the drug would help rid the body of these damaging molecules.
The treated mice were given the drug at 18 months of age. After two months had passed, senescent cells were reduced in number, inflammation levels plummeted, improvements were seen in blood and activity tests, tissues became closer to those of younger mice, and the lifespan of the mice was extended.
Dr. Krithanovsky commented, “We believe that senescent cells contribute to conditions of chronic inflammation and that’s why they contribute to aging.
“When we remove senescent cells, and we’ve shown this, we reduce the level of inflammation in the organism and in tissues. That’s what contributes to extension of survival.”
Not All Senescent Cells Are Bad
Dr. Krithanovsky and his team have further plans to explore ways of activating the immune system to clear senescent cells and hopefully develop a drug to help this process.
One problem with targeting senescent cells is that they have useful functions when they are first formed.
As the researchers write in their paper, “Accumulation of senescent cells promotes aging and the development of age-related diseases; however, senescent cells also perform essential biological functions in wound healing and the response to short-term tissue damage.”
Drugs would need to differentiate between newly formed and mature senescent cells. Also, studies so far have spanned weeks or months. Dr. Krithanovsky is concerned about unforeseen long-term consequences of using this type of drug, and he is trying to identify what the risks might be.
While awaiting developments, something we can all do is keep our immune systems as strong as possible.
To achieve this, it’s important to reduce stress, maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, and fill any nutritional shortfalls by taking high quality vitamin and mineral supplements.
Some supplements are especially helpful to the immune system. These include glutathione and beta-glucan, both known to be powerful immune boosters and life-extenders.
Our sister company, Green Valley Natural Solutions, has formulated a supplement to boost glutathione levels. The direct effects of glutathione on senescent cells hasn’t been studied, but glutathione’s importance to immunity in general is very well established.
I’ve taken the Green Valley glutathione booster myself for a couple of years and haven’t had a cold the whole time (and I don’t get flu shots, either). Just for the record, my experience is not scientific proof, but I wouldn’t be without this supplement.