A dietary supplement bodybuilders use to bulk up may have a more sweeping health benefit: Staving off the ravages of old age. Mice given the substance—alpha-ketoglutarate (AKG)—were healthier as they aged, and females lived longer than mice not on the supplement.
AKG is part of the metabolic cycle that our cells use to make energy from food...The molecule grabbed attention as a possible antiaging treatment in 2014, when researchers reported AKG could extend life span by more than 50% in tiny Caenorhabditis elegans worms... In the new study, Gordon Lithgow and Brian Kennedy of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and colleagues turned to mammals. They gave groups of 18-month-old mice (about age 55 in human years) the equivalent of 2% of their daily chow as AKG until they died, or for up to 21 months. AKG levels in blood gradually drop with age, and the scientists’ aim was to restore levels to those seen in young animals.
Some differences jumped out within a few months: “They looked much blacker, shinier, and younger” than control mice, says Azar Asadi Shahmirzadi, a postdoc at the Buck Institute who did the experiments as a graduate student. In addition, the AKG-fed mice scored an average of more than 40% better on tests of “frailty,” as measured by 31 physiological attributes including hair color, hearing, walking gait, and grip strength. And female mice lived a median of 8% to 20% longer after AKG treatment began than control mice, the group reports today in Cell Metabolism...The AKG-eating mice did not perform better on tests of heart function or treadmill endurance, however, and the tests did not include cognitive performance.
Probing the mechanism for these improvements, the researchers found that female mice receiving AKG produced higher levels of a molecule that tamps down on inflammation. Chronic inflammation can spur many diseases of aging such as cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and dementia.
Kennedy, now also at the National University of Singapore, plans to test AKG in human volunteers soon. Looking at a group of people between the ages of 45 and 65, his group will see whether the molecule improves aging-related biomarkers such as inflammation, arterial hardening, and a type of chemical signature on DNA associated with aging. The company Ponce de Leon Health, where Kennedy serves as chief scientific officer (and Gordon and other paper authors have stock), is running a similar study at Indiana University.
Ponce de Leon Health already sells a formulation of AKG called Rejuvant that it says can “slow the aging process.” Kennedy defends these claims. “We are upfront about the data that we have and do not yet have on the website,” he says. And Brown-Borg notes the Buck Institute team isn’t the first group of aging-focused researchers to start a company to develop an antiaging treatment, an idea she hopes will eventually pan out in clinical trials