Seeking the Fountain of Youth in a Pill

Seeking the Fountain of Youth in a Pill
The Fountain of Youth, 1546 painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Historians now believe that Juan Ponce de León's search for the Fountain of Youth was a myth, but that hasn't stopped scientists from seeking their own solutions to combat aging.

The Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California found that the lifespan of mice could be extended by limiting food on alternate days or by reducing protein consumption; however, the benefits have not been widely tested in humans and many may not be keen on swapping hunger for a longer life. Research on blood proteins and aging has yielded mixed results, as one study found that the protein GDF11 was more abundant in the blood of younger mice and restored muscles when injected into older mice. Yet, another study indicated that GDF11 actually increases with age and may inhibit cell restoration, which suggests that there is another factor or factors driving cells to “act younger.”

Other initiatives have targeted medications already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for other indications, including metformin. Studies have shown that patients with type 2 diabetes taking metformin lived an average 15% longer than their healthy counterparts, which has led to interest in this medication as a treatment for aging. Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York have requested FDA permission to conduct a clinical trial evaluating the efficacy of metformin for patients with or at risk for one or two of the following conditions: cancer, heart disease, or cognitive impairment. The team wants to assess the impact of metformin in reducing the risk of development of these conditions, along with its effects on diabetes and mortality. If future trials show that metformin can delay ageing via risk reduction, it could lead the way for a pharmacological treatment for aging as a disorder.

Until clinical trials can evaluate these “fountains of youth,” lifestyle strategies such as healthy eating, exercise, avoiding smoking, and getting plenty of sleep are the best efforts for a long and happy life.

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