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Amino acid cocktail extends life by 12% -- in mice

October 08, 2010

Want to live longer? One of the most sure-fire strategies is caloric restriction. Going on what amounts to a permanent diet has been shown to stave off age-related diseases and death in worms, flies, rodents and monkeys.

But caloric restriction isn’t for everyone. Thankfully, scientists have been looking for ways to get the same benefits with less sacrifice. A group of Italian researchers is offering up one potential alternative – water fortified with a cocktail of branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs for short.

Such cocktails are sometimes offered as supplements to people with age-related diseases, like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and sarcopenia. The Italians investigated the value of a more all-purpose drink made from an amino acid supplement that a Milan company sells to athletes. Among the key ingredients are leucine, isoleucine, valine, lysine and threonine.

The mice began drinking the BCAA water instead of regular water when they were 9 months old and kept drinking it for the rest of their lives. And those lives turned out to be significantly longer than for mice who drank normal water – a median of 869 days verus 774 days. The extra three months amounted to a 12% increase in lifespan.

The amino acids apparently boosted the mitochondria – often dubbed the power plants of cells – in the rodents’ skeletal and cardiac muscles. Their treadmill endurance improved, as did their motor coordination (as measured by a test involving a rotating rod). The mice also benefitted from additional expression of the sirtuin 1 gene (one of the so-called “longevity genes”), which makes an enzyme that helps repair damage caused be free radicals.

In their paper, which was published this week in Cell Metabolism, the researchers note that the same amino acid cocktail has been “found to promote several healthy effects in humans,” including reduced sarcopenia and decreasing markers of inflammation in people with heart failure. A randomized controlled clinical trial would offer the best proof that these amino acids fight aging, but funding for trials involving dietary supplements  is hard to come by, study senior author Enzo Nisoli of Milan University’s School of Medicine said in a statement.

-- Karen Kaplan/Los Angeles Times

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