Although aging is a thing some try to combat the proactive way with a healthy diet and exercise, researchers have found that our biochemistry plays a significant role in muscle deterioration at the cellular level. As cells age, they become less able to take in oxygen, which is necessary for their energy centers (mitochondria) to be able to turn glucose into the energy that the cells need to properly function.
The reason that it becomes harder for cells to take in oxygen is that their level of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) drops significantly as we age. This NAD+ chemical compound facilitates the communication between cells and their mitochondrial energy source. In a recent research study, collaborators at UNSW and Harvard Medical School found that restoring NAD+ levels in elderly 2-year-old mice restored cellular communication enough that their muscles were renewed to that of a healthy 6-month-old. This would be similar to restoring the muscle tone of a 60-year-old human to that of a 20-year-old.
The lack of communication due to decreased NAD+ levels in cells can cause age-related ailments such as muscle atrophy, type-2 diabetes, and even cancer. By adding more of the naturally occurring compound back into the system, the skeletal muscles in the body are tricked into being younger again.
Because scientists have successfully demonstrated that the compound works in mice, they have been approved to begin human trials in 2014. The side effects of the compound are projected to be minimal because the chemical is naturally occurring in the body, but the long-term effects still need to be studied.
The goal of the research is not to double our life expectancy, but rather to provide some comfort during our last years of life while combating diseases such as type-2 diabetes and cancer. “People think anti-aging research is about us wanting to make people live until they are 200,” says Dr. Nigel Turner, senior research fellow at UNSW. “The goal is really to help people be healthy longer into old age.”