In a new study, researchers found that urolithin A, a metabolite of biomolecules found in pomegranates and other fruits, could help slow certain aging processes in the human body.
The compound could slow down this process by improving the functioning of mitochondria—the cells’ powerhouses.
The research was conducted by a team at the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics and elsewhere.
It is a fact of life that skeletal muscles begin to lose strength and mass once a person reaches the age of 50.
Pomegranate, a fruit prized by many civilizations for its health benefits, contains ellagitannins.
When ingested, these molecules are converted into a compound called urolithin A (UA) in the human gut.
In the study, the researchers found that UA can slow down the mitochondrial aging process. The catch is that not everyone produces UA naturally.
To get around that problem, and to make sure all participants received an equal dose, the team synthesized the compound.
Some 60 elderly people, all sedentary yet in good health, took a single dose of between 250 and 2,000 mg of UA.
The researchers observed no side effects when compared with the control group, who were given a placebo.
The participants were then split into four groups, each receiving a placebo or a 250, 500 or 1,000 mg daily dose of UA for 28 days.
Again, no adverse health impacts were found, even after prolonged ingestion. The team then assessed the efficacy of UA by looking at cellular and mitochondrial health biomarkers in the participants’ blood and muscle tissue.
The results were compelling: UA stimulates mitochondrial biogenesis—the process by which cells increase mitochondrial mass—in the same way as regular exercise.
UA is the only known compound that re-establishes cells’ ability to recycle defective mitochondria.
In young people, this process happens naturally.
But as we age, our body starts to lose its power to clean up dysfunctional mitochondria, causing sarcopenia (loss of skeletal muscle mass) and the weakening of other tissues.
The team focused on slowing or even reversing, this natural effect of aging.
The study also confirms that the compound is safe to eat.
The team hopes to harness the promising results to quickly bring the product to market.
An article published in 2016 showed that the lifespan of nematode worms exposed to UA increased by 45% —from around 20 to 30 days—when compared with the control group.
Likewise, older mice showed 40% better endurance while running after two weeks of treatment. The compound may thus have even more secrets to reveal about its benefits for human health.
The study is published in the journal Nature Metabolism.
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