If you’re like me, you not only want to live as long as you can, you want to be as strong and healthy as possible as you age. You want more years, and you want them to be good years.
Well, I’m happy to report that researchers have found a new way to help us reach those goals.
Studies now show that two popular foods possess natural chemicals that can keep your muscles from wasting away as you age and may prolong your life.
The two foods I’m talking about are apples and green tomatoes. Red tomatoes have the nutrients, too, but in reduced amounts.
Avoid Weak, Creaky Muscles
Muscle weakness and shrinkage (atrophy) is one of the most serious and common problems of aging. This muscle-depleting condition is called sarcopenia. It can start as early as your 30s. If you rarely exercise, say experts, as you get older, you can lose 3 to 5% of your muscle tissue every ten years.
And your rate of increasing muscle weakness can then speed up rapidly as you enter your 60s. It’s estimated that 30 million Americans over the age of 65 are frail and have a limited ability to get around because of sarcopenia.
As researcher Christopher Adams points out, “Muscle atrophy causes many problems for people, their families, and the health care system in general. However, we lack an effective way to prevent or treat it. Exercise certainly helps, but it’s not enough and not very possible for many people who are ill or injured.” Professor Adams is an M.D. and Ph.D.
Research by Prof. Adams and his colleagues at the University of Iowa shows that a compound called tomatidine in green tomatoes may help stop this muscle loss and even reverse it.
Initially, the Iowa scientists found that tomatidine stimulates the growth of muscle tissue in a test tube.
When they tested it on animals, they discovered that the nutrient helps grow bigger muscles, increases strength and prolongs exercise endurance. It also prevents – and can reverse – muscle atrophy that has already begun.
Interestingly, it didn’t seem to affect body weight – body fat apparently decreases as muscles grow larger. That leads the researchers to believe tomatidine may also be helpful for eliminating body fat.
Prompts Helpful Genes to Get to Work
On a microscopic level, the Iowa scientists found that tomatidine – along with ursolic acid, a muscle-boosting nutrient found in apple peels – changes the behavior of genes responsible for building muscle.
Often as we get older, a protein in the body called ATF4 can restrict muscle growth by causing genes to incorporate less protein into muscle. That shrinks muscle tissue and weakens it. But both tomatidine and ursolic acid hold back the activity of ATF-4 in aging muscles.
In their tests on animals, they found that both natural chemicals could increase muscle size by ten percent and boost muscle strength by 30 percent. That’s a remarkable result just for consuming a certain food.
Enjoy a Longer Life
Meanwhile, research by an international group of scientists including researchers at the National Institutes of Health have found that tomatidine can increase life expectancy.
These studies show that tomatidine can help cells clean up and eliminate old and damaged mitochondria, the little structures in cells that produce energy. This process of getting rid of old mitochondria is called mitophagy. Often as cells in the body age, they grow lax in clearing out debris. And as cells become mitochondrial garbage dumps, they start to malfunction.
The result of these malfunctions, say the researchers, can be sarcopenia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes. So they hope that more research can show how tomatidine can help fight off these conditions.
Similarly, research at Cornell shows that ursolic acid may also increase life expectancy.
Clinical Dose not Established
Now, when I investigated how cooking might affect the content of tomatidine in tomatoes, I could not find any reliable information. I know that one of the most popular ways to cook green tomatoes is to fry them. Of course, that’s not a very healthy way to eat any vegetable. Sauteeing them may save the nutrients. But I have to confess I couldn’t determine how cooking green tomatoes affects their tomatidine content.
On the other hand, even if you eat regular red tomatoes, you’ll still get a bit of tomatidine. It won’t be as much as in a green tomato. Still, so far no one is really sure how much tomatidine is an optimal amount for health.
As for the muscle-building nutrient ursolic acid in apples – it’s found mainly in the peels. So if you eat an apple, eat it without peeling it!