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Trying to Slow Down The Clock

The media feeds us a diet of anti-aging regimens. Some are just fruitloopery, but others may bear fruit.

Perhaps the oldest formula for trying to beat the aging process can be found in an Egyptian papyrus dating back to circa 1500 B.C. The “Edwin Smith Papyrus” features a “Recipe for Transforming an Old Man into a Youth” that involves rubbing the body with a dried “hemayet” fruit to remove “all weaknesses which are in the flesh.” Unfortunately, nobody has been able to identify what the hemayet fruit is.

Fast forward to the present day, and instead of fruit, we find fruitloopery. That’s the use of scientific language in a meaningless way to foster belief in some nutty concept. A classic example is “Trinfinity8,” an $8000 anti-aging system that features two crystal rods attached to a “digital translator device” that plugs into the USB port of a computer loaded with special software. Grabbing the rods will “transmit healing codes through the nerves, meridians and minor chakras of your hands, flooding your system with streams of rejuvenating information.” The codes are based on “vibrational energies and fractal formulations that are in harmony with core energetics that encompass all of nature.”

Who says so? Clinical psychologist Dr. Kathy Forti, who in 2003 had an out-of-body experience during which she encountered “multidimensional beings” who advised her to focus on quantum physics. She knew nothing about the subject, or about electronics, but somehow her guides transmitted the critical knowledge that led to the development of a “Fractal Amplification Resonator” that is an essential part of the Trinfinity8 system that “makes it different from other bio-energetic devices.” It “represents a new quantum shift in the emerging science of algorithmic rejuvenation technology” and sets up a “vibratory loop.” This fruitloopiness makes my brain vibrate. Let's calm it down with some research that may actually bear fruit.

Clues to retard aging are likely to come from delving into the intricacies of cellular metabolism, the set of chemical reactions occurring in cells that are needed to maintain life. These reactions are broadly divided into two classes, “anabolism” and “catabolism.” In anabolism, a cell uses energy to construct molecules such as enzymes, structural proteins, neurotransmitters and nucleic acids, all of which perform essential functions. Catabolism is the metabolic process by which the cell breaks down complex molecules such as fats, carbohydrates and proteins to provide the energy and components needed by anabolic reactions. The maintenance of efficient cellular metabolism plays a pivotal role in life expectancy and the prevention of age-associated disease.

The most compelling studies for preventing metabolic reactions from faltering have involved calorie restriction. Whether in yeast cells, roundworms, rodents or monkeys, reducing calorie intake increases longevity. The question is by what mechanism? One theory is that calorie restriction activates a gene known as SIRT1 (Silent Information Regulator Type 1) that codes for a protein called “sirtuin1.” This protein catalyzes a host of important metabolic reactions such as those involved in DNA repair, control of inflammation and regulation of insulin sensitivity. While the production of this protein is guided by the SIRT1 gene, the process also requires a “coenzyme” called “nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+).” This compound also performs a variety of other functions, such as playing a critical role in the production of ATP, the cell’s energy currency. As we age, levels of NAD+ in the body decline.

Understandably then, there is a great deal of interest in dietary supplements of NAD+, as well as in the precursor from which the body makes it, namely “nicotinamide riboside.” One version, “Basis,” developed by Elysium Health, combines nicotinamide riboside with pterostilbene, a compound found in blueberries that are also thought to activate the SIRT1 gene. The company doesn’t promote Basis as a product that increases life expectancy, but rather as a supplement to increase “healthspan.” That may sound hokey, but it does merit further consideration because the co-founder of Elysium Health is MIT Professor Dr. Leonard Guarente, a highly respected researcher on aging.

In 2017, Guarente and colleagues published a paper in Nature, a top-notch journal, that reported on a trial in 120 adults between the ages of 60 and 80 who were given either a placebo or a combination of a single or double dose of nicotinamide riboside with pterostilbene over an eight-week period. Blood levels of NAD+ increased by 40% in the single-dose group and by 90% in the double-dose group. No side effects were noted.

While this is an interesting study, it does not justify the promotion of any supplement that features either NAD+ or nicotinamide riboside as having anti-aging benefits. Demonstrating an elevation of NAD+ is not the same as demonstrating clinical benefit. That requires a randomized, controlled, double-blind trial in which health outcomes are evaluated. What we have so far is a plausible theory that begs for clinical evidence. But at least it isn’t fruitloopery.


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