Human beings have been searching for a fountain of youth for thousands of years. Stories of a mythical spring whose waters restore youth to anyone who drinks it date as far back as the Greek historian Herodotus, in the 5th century BC.
These waters have remained elusive. But in 21st century America, makers of anti-aging products got some good advice this year, from a research team at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
In a 2010 study in Experimental Biology and Medicine, which made national news, a complex was found to offset a key symptom of aging in old mice — declining physical activity. This was achieved by increasing the activity of cell powerhouses, mitochondria, and inhibiting the free radicals this process creates.
Mice that ate bagel bits soaked in the formula maintained youthful levels of locomotor activity into old age, whereas mice not given the formula showed a 50 percent loss in daily movement. The treated mice also did, in fact, live about 11 percent longer. Upshot: they lived longer, and better. Win-win!
So what was in this magic formula? The latest from GSK or Merck? Magic dust courtesy of Harry Potter? Try this: vitamins B1, C, D and E; acetylsalicylic acid; beta-carotene; folic acid; garlic; ginger root; Ginkgo biloba; ginseng; green tea extract; magnesium; melatonin; potassium; cod-liver oil and flax seed oil. The ingredients were combined based on their ability to offset five mechanisms involved in aging.
"For aging humans, maintaining zestful living into later years may provide greater social and economic benefits than simply extending years of likely decrepitude," said David Rollo, associate professor of biology at McMaster, in an interview with Science Digest Daily. "This study obtained a truly remarkable extension of physical function in old mice, far greater than the respectable extension of longevity that we previously documented. This holds great promise for extending the quality of life of 'health span' of humans."
When it comes to combating free radicals, antioxidants are nature's tool of choice, and consumers have a crowded palette to choose from: vitamin A and carotenoids in bright-colored fruits and vegetables; vitamin C in citrus fruits; vitamin E from nuts, seeds and whole grains; selenium found in meats and garlic; flavonoids/polyphenols, such as soy, red wine and tea; lycopene from tomato and watermelon; lutein in dark green vegetables; and lignans, such as flax seed and barley.
One of the world's oldest known antioxidants is the Indian gooseberry known as amla (Emblica officinalis). Its benefits were described as early as 1st century AD in a Sanskrit text. Today, we know its antioxidant power is due to its vitamin C content, although studies have shown it is more powerful than straight vitamin C.
Saberry, an amla ingredient sold by Sabinsa Corp, is a water-soluble powder for use in supplements, foods, beverages or cosmetics. It is standardized to contain a minimum of 10 percent beta-glucogallin and 50 percent gallates using a valid biomarker, beta-glucogallin. Saberry recently earned GRAS status for use in food products.
"Amla extract helps protect the skin from the damaging effects of free radicals and heavy metal-induced oxidative stress," said Shaheen Majeed, marketing director of Sabinsa. "Several animal studies have shown that amla can help prevent a toxic build-up of heavy metals caused by frequent exposure to metals like aluminum, lead and nickel. When vitamin C alone was used, equivalent to that found in amla fruit, only partial protection from heavy metals was provided. Amla has even been proven to almost completely prevent DNA and cell damage from arsenic poisoning."
White tea, soy and resveratrol
A quick scan of supermarket shelves shows just how popular teas are in the fight against free radicals. In 2009, consumers learned that there is one tea that stands above the others in its ability to inhibit inflammatory processes.
Researchers from Kingston University in London tested the health properties of 21 plant and herb extracts, and found that white tea considerably outperformed the batch — even when tested in very small amounts. Results showed white tea prevented the activities of the enzymes that break down elastin and collagen, which lead to wrinkles. These enzymes are also associated with inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and some cancers.
And in still more research from the UK, a team at Newcastle University reported in Nutrition Bulletin in 2009 that the soy isoflavone daidzein may activate a protein called sirtuin1 (Sirt1), previously linked to the regulation of aging and longevity. This suggests soy isoflavones share many of the functional properties of resveratrol.
Resveratrol, an antioxidant naturally found in grapes, red wine, mulberries and peanuts, also remains a popular anti-aging weapon, particularly in the US. Figures from Datamonitor reveal that the vast majority of new products containing resveratrol come from the US, which accounted for 76.3 percent of all resveratrol-containing products since 2002. Europe accounted for 15.1 percent of all launches. Is it a stretch to consider that Yanks are forever searching for the fountain of youth in a pill, while Euros are content with taking it one glass of wine at a time?
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