One well-known drug is a popular headache remedy, another is prescribed for diabetes, and a third is given to patients who’ve had a kidney transplant.
These seem unlikely candidates for helping healthy people add years to their lives. But it looks like that’s exactly what they do.
Should you take one or more of these medications the way you’d take a supplement? Let’s try to sort it out. . .
“Almost Like a Miracle”
All drugs have side effects, and when we hear that phrase we almost always think of bad side effects.
Yet some drugs have beneficial “off label” attributes. For instance, hundreds of drugs designed for treating everything from acne to yeast infections also have anti-cancer properties.
Now scientists are looking at three well-known drugs as potential life-extending agents: rapamycin, metformin and ibuprofen. All of them have been around for a long time.
Rapamycin was discovered in 1972. It’s mainly used as an immune suppressor. This property helps kidney transplant patients avoid organ rejection.
Its potential ability to extend life comes from the way it affects two cell-signaling pathways, one called mTOR and the other, TRPKL1.
Sure Worked for Mice
Overactivity of the first pathway is involved with aging and age-related diseases. Restraining mTOR with rapamycin has consistently extended maximum lifespan in mice and has also prolonged the life of dogs.
Steven Austad, a distinguished professor and chair of biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, describes the impact of the drug in one of the mice studies:
“The mice were not just living longer, they were getting less cancer, and some forms of cancer went away entirely.
“Their immune systems were better preserved. Their mental faculties were better. They had so many things that went well, it was almost like a miracle.”
The drug also upregulates TRPKL1. This protein helps clear away waste and faulty proteins from cells. Dr. Wei Chen, one of the scientists who helped identify this drug target, believes it could contribute significantly to the anti-aging effects of rapamycin.
Anti-Diabetes Drug Has Many Anti-Aging Actions
You’re more likely to have heard of metformin than rapamycin. Although it’s been around almost one hundred years, metformin remains the most commonly prescribed drug for diabetes. That’s remarkable, considering the research dollars that are poured into finding something better.
Now it’s known that metformin also targets and benefits many anti-aging mechanisms.
These include decreased insulin levels and IGF-1 (insulin like growth factor-1) signaling, inhibition of mTOR (described above), increased antioxidant protection, reduced inflammation, less DNA damage, and activation of AMPK.
AMPK is an important enzyme and master metabolic regulator that maintains a constant environment within cells. It’s been shown to positively affect lifespan in different species.
Many studies have shown that metformin can extend the life of flies, worms and rodents. Increased rates of survival have also been found in diabetic, cardiovascular and cancer patients who take the drug.
The FDA recently okayed the first ever human anti-aging trial for metformin. The trial is called TAME (Targeting Aging with Metformin), and will evaluate 3,000 people aged 65 to 79 over a course of six years.
I’ve heard of top anti-aging scientists who take metformin themselves in hopes of adding years to their lives. But like any drug, it does have adverse side effects for some people. Assuming you want to try metformin – and that you can find a willing doctor to prescribe it – be sure to discuss ALL side effects.
Takes Away Pain – Increases Lifespan
The third candidate for possible anti-aging use is known to nearly everybody: ibuprofen, marketed under the name Advil and other brands.
Invented over 50 years ago, ibuprofen is the most unlikely of the three candidates to offer life-extending properties because it doesn’t act on any known anti-aging mechanism, so it wasn’t explored for this purpose until 2014.
The researchers believed it was worth investigating because it was shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s by 30%, a finding that was not related to its ability to reduce inflammation.
The scientific team at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging found that doses comparable to those prescribed for humans increased lifespan of yeast, worms and fruit flies by 15%.
Brian Kennedy, CEO of the Institute, said, “There is a lot to be excited about. Not only did the species live longer, but the treated flies and worms appeared more healthy.”
The drug seems to work by a new mechanism, inhibiting the uptake of certain amino acids into the cell. But the scientists are not yet sure why this works.
Other studies, however, suggest that ibuprofen use increases the risk of heart disease. You can read about this in issues #162 and #163 of my Healthy Perspectives Newsletter. It is possible that it both raises the risk of heart disease AND decreases the risk of death from all causes. This is a pretty common effect.