There is a lot of press recently about pomegranates being the next miracle anti-aging fruit. But it turns out that no two people will benefit the same because it depends on the ability of your gut to transform the pomegranate into urolithin A. The scientists explain in the following two articles.
Scientists Discover Anti-Aging Compound That Humans Get From Eating Pomegranates
For thousands of year, pomegranates have stood as a symbol of rebirth, fertility, and eternal life, and according to a new study published in the journal Nature Medicine, the fruit may live up to its expectations and have the power to stop us from aging.
A team of Swiss scientists from Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) have just discovered a potential key to rejuvenation called urolithin A (UA). But the fruit doesn’t produce the magical-seeming molecule on its own — instead, the human gut transforms the pomegranate compound during digestion.
“It’s a completely natural substance, and its effect is powerful and measurable,” said the study’s co-author Patrick Aebischer, the head of the neurodegenerative disease laboratory at EPFL, in a statement. “For it to be produced in our intestines, the bacteria must be able to break down what we’re eating. When, via digestion, a substance is produced that is of benefit to us, natural selection favors both the bacteria and host.”
Pomegranates may induce the human body to produce an anti-aging compound.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay, public domain
After drinking squeezed pomegranate juice or eating the jewel-like fruit piece by piece, a natural substance within the fruit, called ellagitannins, are broken down by the intestinal bacterial in the stomach, which converts it into UA. When humans age, the mitochondria, which are the engines of the cell, begin to degrade over time and lead to muscle weakening.
But when researchers exposed UA to elderly nematode worms, they lived nearly twice as long as nematodes that did not receive the UA compound, and researchers believe it’s because the compound has the ability to salvage and restore failing mitochondria.
“It’s the only known molecule that can re-launch the mitochondrial clean-up process,” Aebischer said. “We believe our research, uncovering the benefits of urolithin A, holds promise in reversing muscle aging.”
When they tested UA on mice, researchers found similar results. Older mice were 42 percent better at endurance running than mice that weren’t given UA before exercise. This led the research team to believe UA could unlock the ability to reverse aging in humans. However, everyone’s gut works differently, which means the amount of UA each person produces could change depending on their particular colony of gut bacteria.
“Species that are evolutionarily quite distant, such as [worms and mice], react to the same substance in the same way,” said the study’s co-author Johan Auwerx, a researcher at EPFL, in a statement. “That’s a good indication that we’re touching here on an essential mechanism in living organisms.”
Aebischer and his team are working with biotech company Amazentis to develop a safe nutritional supplement for aging consumers. Until then, you don’t need to chug gallons of pomegranate juice to render some of the benefits for yourself. Any foods that contain the ellagitannins, which start the anti-aging domino effect in the first place, may do the trick.
“Precursors to urolithin A are found not only in pomegranates, but also in smaller amounts in many nuts and berries,” Aebischer said. “Our objective is to follow strict clinical validations, so that everyone can benefit from the result of these millions of years of evolution.”
Here’s another article that underscores merely eating pomegranates is not a guaranteed solution.
Pomegranate finally reveals its powerful anti-aging secret
Are pomegranates really the superfood we’ve been led to believe will counteract the aging process? Up to now, scientific proof has been fairly weak. And some controversial marketing tactics have led to skepticism as well. A team of scientists from EPFL and the company Amazentis wanted to explore the issue by taking a closer look at the secrets of this plump pink fruit.
They discovered that a molecule in pomegranates, transformed by microbes in the gut, enables muscle cells to protect themselves against one of the major causes of aging. In nematodes and rodents, the effect is nothing short of amazing. Human clinical trials are currently underway, but these initial findings have already been published in the journal Nature Medicine.
As we age, our cells increasingly struggle to recycle their powerhouses. Called mitochondria, these inner compartments are no longer able to carry out their vital function, thus accumulate in the cell. This degradation affects the health of many tissues, including muscles, which gradually weaken over the years. A buildup of dysfunctional mitochondria is also suspected of playing a role in other diseases of aging, such as Parkinson’s disease.
One molecule plays David against the Goliath of aging
The scientists identified a molecule that, all by itself, managed to re-establish the cell’s ability to recycle the components of the defective mitochondria: urolithin A. “It’s the only known molecule that can relaunch the mitochondrial clean-up process, otherwise known as mitophagy,” says Patrick Aebischer, co-author on the study. “It’s a completely natural substance, and its effect is powerful and measurable.”
The team started out by testing their hypothesis on the usual suspect: the nematode C. elegans. It’s a favorite test subject among aging experts, because after just 8-10 days it’s already considered elderly. The lifespan of worms exposed to urolithin A increased by more than 45% compared with the control group.
These initial encouraging results led the team to test the molecule on animals that have more in common with humans. In the rodent studies, like with C. elegans, a significant reduction in the number of mitochondria was observed, indicating that a robust cellular recycling process was taking place. Older mice, around two years of age, showed 42% better endurance while running than equally old mice in the control group.
Human testing underway
Before heading out to stock up on pomegranates, however, it’s worth noting that the fruit doesn’t itself contain the miracle molecule, but rather its precursor. That molecule is converted into urolithin A by the microbes that inhabit the intestine. Because of this, the amount of urolithin A produced can vary widely, depending on the species of animal and the flora present in the gut microbiome. Some individuals don’t produce any at all. If you’re one of the unlucky ones, it’s possible that pomegranate juice won’t do you any good.
So, clearly, more research is necessary. But adding pomegranates into your diet seems like a good move.