12 January - 20 June 2016

Do pomegranates have an anti-aging power?

A study, reported by the media as pomegranates having anti-aging properties, has investigated the effect of urolithins on muscle cells and aging. The study published in Nature Medicine doesn’t investigate the compound ellagitannins found in pomegranate fruit, but urotlithins which are produced by microflora when ellagitannins are hydrolysed in the gut and release ellagic acids.

A study, reported by the media as pomegranates having anti-aging properties, has investigated the effect of urolithins on muscle cells and aging.  The study published in Nature Medicine doesn’t investigate the compound ellagitannins found in pomegranate fruit, but urotlithins which are produced by microflora when ellagitannins are hydrolysed in the gut and release ellagic acids.

Auwerx et al. investigated the biological effects of urolithins, using C. elegans (roundworms) as a model organism as well as rodents. Worms are thought to be a useful model for studying human biology due to being multicellular, having cells which have many features similar to human cells, and the worm develops from a fertilised eggs.

The worms were fed, from eggs until they died, 50 µM standard concentrations of either urolithins A (UA), urolithins B (UB), urolithins C (UC) or urolithins D (UD). UA consumption was found to extend their lifespan by 45%, UB by 37%, UC by 36% and UD by 19% compared to a control group. The scientists also investigated feeding worms with lower concentrations of UA and found “a clear dose response effect on lifespan when UA concentrations were increased from 10 to 50 µM.” Auwerx et al. examined the effect of UA on the worm’s activity by assessing the pharyngeal pumping rate and mobility. They found both improved with UA treatment during aging, with a similar affect being observed with UB.

UA was found to lead to improved mitochondrial function by stimulating mitophagy, a process by which damaged mitochondria are recycled to permit a renewal with healthy mitochondria.   If the damaged mitochondria are not recycled the decomposing components are thought to accumulate inside the cells and causing problems in the tissues.   The reduction in mitochondrial function in the muscles of elderly is thought to be a major cause of age-related muscle impairments. 

Auwerx et al. repeated the UA tests using rodents.  They assessed bioavailability of UA by feeding rats 25 mg of UA per kg of body weight per day and found “detectable and stable UA levels in both plasma and muscle after 2 and 7 days of treatment”.  Next the team evaluated UA treatment for the prevention of age-related muscle decline in 16 month old male mice fed a high fat diet.  The mice were fed 50 mg/kg/d of UA for 8 months.  UA didn’t affect body weight, although it increased muscle function (9% increase in grip strength and 57% greater levels of spontaneous exercise) measured at 22 and 24 months of ages compared to the control.  Using aged mice the team investigated the effect of UA with a short 6 week treatment.  UA again led to a 42% increase in running endurance compared to the control.  As with the worms, the team found UA led to a significant reduction in faulty mitochondria.

The team note that as pomegranates contain the precursor, ellagitannins rather that urolithins A, and there are a number of steps involved in the conversion process, the amount of UA in humans can vary widely.  However they state “our data advocate the nutritional supplementation with UA to induce mitophagy hold promise for further development in humans.”

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