Getting an injection of young blood often revitalizes a business or team; now there is evidence that young blood itself can reverse the signs and symptoms of aging in mammals. In three studies published Sunday May 4, 2014 in the journals Science and Nature Medicine, researchers repeatedly injected elderly mice with blood drawn from younger mice. The control group was infused with older blood. The mice that got the younger blood did better in learning and memory tests, sensory function, and muscle power.
Researchers think that a single specific protein, shared by both mice and humans, appears to cause the rejuvenation. Two of the studies focused on this protein, growth differentiation factor 11 (GDF11) which is plentiful in young mice but which declines as they age. In one study, injecting GDF11 into older mice restored their sense of smell. In another, GDF 11 enhanced physical strength and endurance.
In the third study, older mice had a harder time locating an underwater platform than younger mice. After being injected with the plasma of younger mice, the older mice, with the human age equivalent of 70, did significantly better. “At the cognitive level, systemic administration of young blood plasma into aged mice improved age-related cognitive impairments,” according to Saul A. Villeda, PhD of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) one of the studies’ authors.
Human tests on the protein are expected to start in the next few years, but as Villeda stated, “Don’t try this at home.” Maybe there is something to those old vampire legends of those ancient creatures constantly needing fresh blood to maintain their vitality.
To Fight Flab, Rise Early and Chase Sunshine
For those of us trying to lose weight, here's a method that is so offbeat that it doesn't seem to make sense. In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health at the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University, researchers monitored volunteers equipped with wrist-mounted light monitors which measured the intensity and duration of light that they were exposed to. Study participants were asked to record everything they ate and drank for the duration of the experiment.
The researchers learned that people who exposed themselves to more early morning light of at least 500 lux had a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who didn't, irrespective of the calories consumed. Every hour that the sun exposure was delayed past sunrise, the average BMI rose by 1.28 points. Exposure to light between 8:00 am and noon didn't have the same salutatory effect, possibly due to the spectral difference in early daylight, which is bluer than it gets later. The study was published April 2, 2014 in the journal PLOS ONE.
Why would light matter this much; and why early morning light? Circadian rhythms are controlled by our brains' biological clocks. Genes that shape these physical, mental and behavioral changes have been found in people, fruit flies, mice and fungi. The rhythms are light and darkness driven on a 24 hour cycle and have a hand in orchestrating hormone release, body temperature and sleep-wake cycles among other significant functions.
The study is intriguing. It suggests that one way to maximize our weight loss is to start the day by getting our daily exercise outside in the early morning light. Whether it is roof top yoga, or an invigorating lake row, the best time to get the blood pumping is while we drink in the new day. It's almost as if by exposing ourselves to all that solar energy, we supercharge our body to metabolize calories better. Maybe the best Paleolithic diet is one of early sunlight.
A Hormone Connected to Longevity Makes Brains Perform Better
Since getting older is the main risk factor for cognitive decline, the possibility that brain power can be boosted by any substance, makes it worth examining. For about a decade, scientists have known that animals with high levels of the hormone klotho live longer. The hormone's namesake is Klotho of Greek mythology, one of the Fates. Klotho was the spinner of the thread of life. Her sister Lakhesis measured the length of life's span while their third sister, Atropos, cut it, killing the mere mortal whose thread it was.
Dena Dubal MD, PhD Assistant Professor at the UCSF School of Medicine, along with fellow researchers posited that people with higher levels of the hormone klotho would suffer less age related cognitive decline than others. Scientists studied more than 700 people between the ages of 52 and 85. About 20 percent of them had a gene variant that caused them to generated high levels of klotho.
Researchers expected to see less brain aging in those with elevated levels of the hormone, but instead the scientists confronted a surprise. The klotho enhanced brains were not protected against cognitive decline; however there were still grounds for hope.
It turned out that at any age people with higher levels of klotho did better than their hormone deficient counterparts on a variety of tests, including attention, learning, language - and the bane of Alzheimer’s patients - memory. Instead of finding a hormone that resisted aging, the researchers found one that in addition to contributing to longevity, kept people smarter.
For their next step, the researchers genetically engineered mice to produce higher levels of klotho. The results remained consistent. "Elevating klotho made the mice smarter across all the cognitive tests that we put them through," Dubal said.
Examination of mouse brains showed why. In the areas that controlled learning and memory, connections between the brains’ neurons were strengthened. The study was published May 8, 2014 in the journal Cell Reports.
With Alzheimer’s disease predicted to afflict 136 million people worldwide by 2050, it’s vital that every avenue to combat it is pursued.
There's a lot that remains unknown about this hormone discovered in 1997. In many genetically inherited traits, like sickle cell anemia or blue eyes, it takes two copies of a gene for the trait to manifest itself, but people who inherit two genes that produce high klotho levels actually generate less of the hormone. Those who produce the most only have single copes of the gene. Diet and exercise have been linked to controlling levels of other hormones like insulin. Do these twin pillar of anti-aging have a similar effect on klotho levels?
Drugs that increase klotho when administered to people with normal levels of the hormone have the potential of combating the devastating effects of senile dementia. For the one in five who got the genetic advantage of this smart hormone from birth, the potential improvements in cognitive function are less clear.
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