A rather impressive claim has been floating around recently from some Montreal-based researchers. They believe they have found six groups of molecules—plant extracts, specifically—that could retard the aging process and enhance longevity. Much fanfare is made of one compound in particular – a willow bark extract – that shows the strongest anti-aging effect seen so far in science. Do the findings support such claims? Sort of. The tricky part is separating what the study actually found from what others want the results to mean.
In Brief: Aging
Every element of the aging process, from hearing loss to brittle bones to sagging skin, is regulated by a series of signaling pathways in your body’s cells. Which pathway affects what is not always clear, and plenty of research goes in to finding out how the different channels interact with each other and the body as a whole. It is also worth mentioning that there is no universally accepted measurement of cellular or molecular aging, since there are so many different possible measurements to choose from.
The Yeast Study
The key thing to keep in mind is that this study was conducted by testing the plant extracts on yeast cells. Yeast has a similar cellular aging process to humans, so it is often used as a cellular aging model. This is similar to why pigs or mice are used in other forms of research. The use of yeast is also important since it means that any findings of this study cannot be applied to humans.
The progression of treatment development goes from cellular/petri dish tests, to animal trials, to human testing. Yeast may be a good model for cellular aging, but it is still yeast; and just because something works on yeast does not mean it can work on people. Plenty of treatments show promise in animal or cellular tests but never manage to work the same in humans. This is why, as the study’s findings are discussed below, you need to keep in mind that they only apply to yeast.
During the study, the researchers administered the extracts and monitored various signaling pathways in the yeast cells. The pathways chosen were those that are known to be tied to various elements of aging and in past studies, some have been known to show anti-aging effects if subjected to certain nutrients or hormones. Among the findings:
- The results of some of the extracts mimicked the age-delaying effect of giving yeast a caloric-restriction diet
- The age-slowing seemed to be connected to provoking a mild stress response in the cells
- The willow bark extract, in particular, extended the yeast lifespan more than previously known compounds
- Some used signaling pathways associated with age-related diseases
- One seemed to delay aging through a previously unknown signaling pathway
What This Means
If you are attached to your yeast, you might be able to use willow bark extract to keep it around longer. Anything else about these molecules, especially any implications for human aging or age-related diseases, will need much more work before actual claims or predictions can be made. This is still a preliminary stage in the scientific process.
“6 new groups of molecules could be the key to delaying aging,” Concordia University web site, September 7, 2016; http://www.concordia.ca/news/media-relations/news/media-relations/news-releases/cunews/main/releases/2016/09/07/research-plant-extracts-that-could-be-the-key-to-reversing-aging.html, last accessed September 8, 2016.