Spermidine, a molecule known to induce a cellular recycling mechanism called autophagy, has been shown to extend life and improve cardiovascular health in mice
The unusually named spermidine is found in small amounts in aged cheese, legumes and semen, and prior research has revealed its ability to increase autophagy. Autophagy is essentially cellular recycling, in which the cell breaks down and renews its components. This releases energy for the cell to use when in starvation mode, but it also acts as a quality control mechanism - refreshing old machinery. While too much is of course bad, appropriately raised autophagy has been shown to increase lifespan in model organisms like C. elegans and fruit flies. Spermidine application is one way of doing this.
Testing on mice
Researchers testing on mice provided a dosage of spermidine in one group's water supply, while giving a control group normal water. When they compared these animals throughout their life they discovered that the spermidine group displayed improved cardiovascular health markers . They also lived longer, even when the treatment was began later in life after mouse 'middle age'. Blood pressure was also noticeably reduced, even in animals fed a high salt diet.
How did spermidine improve health?
Under closer examination the research team found that spermidine was enhancing cardiac cell autophagy, the breakdown of mitochondria, mitochondrial respiration, suppressed aspects of inflammation and even improved the elasticity of the heart muscle cells. To confirm that it was acting via autophagy the scientists tested spermidine on a mouse strain that lacked a protein called Atg5 in their heart muscle cells. Atg5 is a critical protein for autophagy, and indeed without it spermidine had no observable benefit. This suggests that spermidine enhances health via autophagy related mechanisms.
The study confirms prior suggestion in dietary studies that individuals who eat diets with a relatively large amount of spermidine seem to receive some health improvements. However, the amount in dietary sources is also extremely low, so the hope is that this natural product can be applied in human tests as soon as possible.
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