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Michael Elstein uncovers the latest weapon in the fight against mortality.

Provided we’re having a good time, most of us would love to live longer if we could remain independently vertical and healthy. It would be even easier if this quest for immortality could be stored in a slow-release capsule rather than an impossible-to-maintain minimalist diet, or one that mandated exercise and vetoed fat and sugar.   That genie might be about to jump out of the bottle.

In March 2017 in Los Angeles, the city where dreams are pursued and often dashed, a collection of movie stars, influential luminaries, and pioneers in the field of longevity medicine, assembled in the house of Norman Lear,  an American television writer and producer famous for such 1970s sitcoms as All in the Family, One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons, and Good Times, to commence the National Academy of Medicine’s Grand Challenge in Healthy Longevity which will award 25 million dollars for anyone who uncovers substantial insights into the prevention and reversal of ageing.

Sprawled regally on one of the couches, Goldie Hawn enquired about glutathione’s magical rejuvenation powers.  Glutathione is a premier antioxidant that gobbles up purportedly toxic free radicals and enhances liver function making it a much more efficient eliminator of metabolic garbage.  Nobel prize-winner Elizabeth Blackburn, renowned for her work on telomeres, the strands at the end of chromosomes which preserve genetic expression, responded that given the complexities surrounding the ageing process, any single actor was unlikely to withstand the myriad events that trigger ageing.

This was an interesting rejoinder as Blackburn’s research has spurned a number of agents reputed to conserve the function of telomeres which wither with ageing.  If telomeres could be sheltered from decay cells, they would be able to express their genetic potential and continue to replicate which would go some way to maintaining ongoing cellular activity, thereby suppressing ageing.  Unfortunately this process is not selective.  Protecting telomeres might prolong the activity of abnormal cells like cancer cells that are ready to multiply, as much as it safeguards healthy cells.  Moreover laboratory mice with longer telomeres don’t necessarily age less.

The search for one miracle molecule that could grant immortality has always been appealing to the anti-ageing movement.  We used to think it might be a super-antioxidant that could put an end to the destructive effects of free radicals until we discovered that free radicals actually benefit us by switching on the bodies antioxidant defences and priming the immune system.  Completely neutralising them might not be to our advantage.  Nevertheless, the hunt to find a champion that could quell all the forces that propel ageing has not dimmed.

Across the universe, while the avatars of the anti-ageing community were hobnobbing in Los Angeles, David Sinclair, a professor of medicine and genetics at the University of New South Wales and Harvard respectively, and co-chief editor of the scientific journal, Ageing, was busy fine-tuning research on a powerful new substance that would supercharge the inroads on the ageing process made by resveratrol.

Located in the skin of red grapes, resveratrol was found to work wonders on laboratory animals by switching on a host of proteins that would rejuvenate these creatures, allowing them to live longer and  healthier.  But in humans the results were disappointing.  Resveratrol is poorly absorbed and rapidly degraded, so that by the time it reaches the places in our bodies where it did animals a power of good, not much is left.

Sirtuins and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) are two of the principal proteins activated by resveratrol which promote longevity.  Sirtuins are powerful chemical orchestrators that enhance organ performance, revitalise DNA repair, make us more resistant to diseases, and promote the genesis of youthful stem cells.  Increasing NAD+ is one of the most effective ways to turn on sirtuins.

Both sirtuins and NAD+ go into decline with ageing.   Aside from all the beneficial functions that sirtuins perform to slow down ageing, once these diminish, DNA damage proliferates, mental acuity decreases, exercise capacity is reduced and ageing accelerates.

Rather than rely on resveratrol with all its shortcomings David Sinclair and his research team have uncovered a substance called nicotinamide mononucleotide which they have determined is one of the prime means for manufacturing NAD+ and energising sirtuins.  After receiving  nicotinamide mononucleotide with their drinking water for a week,  the NAD+ levels of old mice rose significantly.

Along with this surge in NAD+, Sinclair’s research team was able to reverse muscle ageing in these old mice and substantially attenuate DNA damage. Nicotinamide mononucleotide was also able to protect the mice against the damaging effects of radiation exposure.  If we’re going to start travelling to the further reaches of outer space with Mars in our sights, then using NAD-enhancing molecules as a protective shield against the potentially harmful effects of cosmic radiation exposure during space missions would be a worthwhile investment.

Clinical trials on humans utilising nicotinamide mononucleotide are scheduled to begin late in 2017.  But as has often been the case with anti-ageing remedies that appear to be  stellar rejuvenators in laboratory animals long before the science has adequately demonstrated that they are equally beneficial for us, commercial interests have already brought a compound to market with a close chemical affinity to nicotinamide mononucleotide.

Nicotinamide riboside, like its cousin nicotinamide mononucleotide, has been shown to remarkably revitalise ageing mice by increasing running times and grip strength, regenerating damaged muscle and ramping up the production of new brain cells.  Give nicotinamide riboside to old mice and they use sugar more efficiently, burn fat more effectively, preserve their muscle mass, and consequently live longer.  If these spectacular phenomena occur in mice, why shouldn’t we humans capitalise on this potential longevity bonanza?

Leonard Guarante, an MIT biology professor, has already co-founded a company called Elysium that has released its first product, Basis, with nicotinamide riboside its core ingredient.  For a monthly spend of fifty dollars, Basis promises metabolic repair and optimisation, without any research evidence that it does us any good.

This magic potion has yet to be awarded the 25 million dollar prize by the National Academy of Medicine for achieving a significant anti-ageing breakthrough.  Nevertheless Professor Guarante boasts that Basis has made his nails grow faster which, if nails are anything to go by, might indicate that other parts of his anatomy, maybe even brain cells, are experiencing a dramatic spike in growth rates.

While maintaining a healthy cynicism, I spoke to my friend and colleague professor Brian Morris, who has helmed the physiology department at the University of Sydney, about the wisdom of commencing nicotinamide riboside.

Brian, who is approaching 70, understandably has a massive investment in remaining youthful to which end he has grown a beard to emulate just about every post-pubescent footballer, and fasts for 24 hours every week to copy almost none of us.  Unsurprisingly, he is as thin as a rake and refers to Professor Leonard Guarante as Larry, which either means he’s an intellectual snob pretending to be on the same team as the MIT elite, or he knows and trusts the esteemed professor.  I opted for the latter when Brian told me that he would take nicotinamide riboside.

In February of this year just before Goldie Hawn and her posse of anti-ageing dignitaries were hanging out in Los Angeles, Time magazine featured a longevity special report which explored all the latest discoveries in the field of anti-ageing medicine.  One of these was a segment which showcased nicotinamide riboside.

If you search for internet information on Basis you’ll find a blog overflowing with comments about nicotinamide riboside, some glowing, and a number bubbling with righteous indignation from those who have not had their mojo rekindled, on the pros and cons of taking this supplement.

Elysium isn’t shipping Basis to Australia yet so I’ve opted for Life Extension’s version of nicotinamide riboside modestly labelled ‘cell regenerator.’ Life Extension is another supplement company in the USA which trumpets the virtue of its products without a murmur about their flaws.  I’m wondering if I’ve succumbed to the hard sell and the promise of an extraordinary makeover located in one simple pill.

Maybe I should be heading the words of Nir Barzelai, an esteemed researcher at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and Dr Jeffrey Flier, former dean of Harvard Medical School, who, emphasising the lack of human evidence, caution that substances found to benefit mice might not help us.

If my next article appears a little more juvenile then the learned professors might have to eat their words.

  • Dr Michael Elstein is an author and physician at The Eternal Health Medical Centre specialising in anti-ageing medicine, nutrition and dietary therapy. Contact www.eternalhealth.org

 

 

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