Living Longer Through Chemistry

We all hope for a long and healthy life. From the dawn of human existence, the secret of long life has drawn the attention of kings and paupers. If only the secret was known! Recently, some scientists have proposed one thing that might actually help us to live longer!

Obviously, it is hard to test scientific theories on life extension on people. Everyone will get in line once a theory has been proven, but nobody wants to be the test subject for a new idea. That means that other animals have to take one for the team and serve as test subjects. Ah, the life of a lab animal!

Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health had an idea. They thought that adding metabolites (products of cellular metabolism) might extend life. Their first metabolite to be tested was α-ketoglutarate ( we will call it α-KG for obvious reasons). Their lab animal of choice? The lowly nematode, a tiny worm that is a favorite of researchers looking at life extension.

Magnified Nematode
So the research study was pretty straight-forward. They took two groups of nematodes. One group lived a normal (for a worm) life, eating normally and NOT receiving any α-KG. The other group (yes, you guessed it) had a normal diet but DID receive α-KG in their little petri dishes. Then the scientists just waited to see how long the two groups of worms lived. Exciting? No. But productive? In this case, yes. The nematodes that received α-KG actually lived 70% longer than those who did not. Boom! Who wouldn't want to live 70% longer?

It has been long accepted that lowering your metabolism can result in longer lifespan. Animals living on a calorie-restricted diet tend to live longer than their brethren with ready access to lots of food. This benefit has never been confirmed in primates, and people are unlikely to stay on a subsistence diet for decades in the faint hope that their life might stretch a bit.

Another metabolic modifier is resveratrol. Not only has resveratrol been shown to balance blood sugar spikes and avoid insulin surges, it appears that it can also moderate metabolism. Wine contains resveratrol, but in far less than medically viable concentrations.

There is a lot of research still needed before α-KG can be declared a life extension miracle. Until then, eat right, watch your weight and hope that you live long enough for a real life extension drug to be proven!

As Spock said, "Live long and prosper."

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