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Pomegranate key to anti-ageing: scientists

Press AssociationPress Association 12/07/2016

It may not make you immortal, but a ruby red superfruit revered in ancient times as a "food of the gods" could hold the key to youthful ageing.

The pomegranate contains a chemical that combats a fundamental ageing process which causes muscles to weaken, scientists have discovered.

As in every legend involving a hidden secret to staying young, there is a catch, however.

To experience any anti-ageing benefit from the pomegranate compound you must first possess the "right" sort of gut bacteria.

The microbes are needed because they convert the fruit's raw ingredient into the molecule urolithin A, shown in laboratory experiments to maintain youthful muscles.

Old mice fed the magic molecule as part of their diet were stronger than animals given ordinary food and their running endurance was boosted by 45 per cent.

Excited scientists have already set up a company, Amazentis, to exploit the discovery.

Early clinical trials testing finely calibrated doses of the molecule in human patients are now under way in a number of European hospitals.

Lead researcher Professor Johan Auwerx, from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, said they believe this research is a milestone in current anti-ageing efforts.

The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, focused on mitochondria - tiny rod-like "power plants" in cells that play a vital role in turning food into energy.

Over time, mitochondria become worn out and damaged. A process called "mitophagy" allows the mitochondria to be recycled, clearing away those that are defective to make way for fresh replacements.

As we age, mitophagy becomes less efficient and cells end up cluttered with old, poorly functioning mitochondria. This harms the health of many organs and tissues, including muscles which weaken.

The build-up of dysfunctional mitochondria is associated with many conditions of ageing, such as Parkinson's disease.

But the Swiss team found that urolithin A stimulated mitophagy and re-established the ability of cells to recycle mitochondria.

Experiments involving mice demonstrated a similar anti-ageing effect in mammals

In one experiment, including urolithin A in the diet of two-year-old mice increased their running endurance by an average 42 per cent.

Amazentis co-founder Dr Patrick Aebischer, also from EPFL, said: "We believe our research, uncovering the health benefits of urolithin A, holds promise in reversing muscle ageing."

But the scientists pointed out that the amount of urolithin A produced naturally in the body, via gut microbes, varied greatly between different species and individuals.

Some people lacking the right gut bacteria may not obtain any of the molecule from their diet.

"If you're one of the unlucky ones, it's possible that pomegranate juice won't do you any good," said the researchers in a press release.

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