Ridding two toxic by-products of fat that naturally accumulate over time could be the key to halting aging, and shedding a few pounds too, according to a new study.
The study, conducted at the University of Virginia and published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Current Biology, suggests that a longer life can be gained by detoxing from glycerol and glyceraldehyde, which we naturally store more of as we age.
What's the secret to anti-aging?
Researcher Eyleen Jorgelina O’Rourke said the team's discovery was unexpected. The prior belief, she explained, was that the key to living longer is to activate autophagy, a process that renews broken and old parts in our cells.
"We went after a very well-supported hypothesis that the secret to longevity was the activation of a cell-rejuvenating process named autophagy and ended up finding an unrecognized mechanism of health and lifespan extension,” she said. “An exciting aspect of the discovery is that the key to switch on this longevity mechanism is the activation of two enzymes that are very well studied because of their role in ethanol detoxification. [Ethanol is the alcohol contained in beer and bourbon]. This existing knowledge greatly facilitates our search for drugs that can specifically activate this anti-aging process.”
The team examined microscopic worms called C. elegans, commonly used in biomedical research as they share over 70% of the same genes as humans. They found that the worms’ health and lifespan improved by 50% with no increase in autophagy at all.
Rather, the researchers used a method on the worms called named AMAR, the Sanskrit word for immortality.
AMAR, in this study, stands for “Alcohol and aldehyde-dehydrogenase Mediated Anti-aging Response.” By putting the spurs into a gene called adh-1, the scientists found that they could bring about an anti-aging reaction.
Doing so made the gene produce more of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase.
Alcohol dehydrogenase, the team said, prevented the harmful effects caused by glycerol and, indirectly, glyceraldehyde, leading to a longer and healthier life for the worms.
What about in humans?
Impressed with their results, the researchers went on to test whether the same held true within mammals, beginning with a test on yeast. Eventually, the test was performed on humans who saw a similar delay in aging. They found the results to hold up on all models.
O'Rourke expressed hope that AMAR will be used more frequently in therapeutics.
“With age-related diseases currently being the major health burden for patients, their families and the healthcare system, targeting the process of aging itself would be most effective way to reduce this burden and increase the number of years of independent healthy living for all of us," she said.