A new study extends worm lifespan beyond scientists’ expectations. Read the post below to know why it matters to human aging.
In this article:
- A Worm Defied Scientific Expectations
- What Are These Signaling Pathways?
- Mitochondria and Lifespan Extension
- So How Do You Extend Life?
Study Extends Worm Lifespan: Does It Hold the Key to Humans’ Quest for Longer Life?
A recent study extends worm lifespan by 500%, and it’s leaving researchers in a state of shock because:
- It might have provided significant ideas that can help scientists reverse aging.
- The extended lifespan was beyond their expectations.
A Worm Defied Scientific Expectations
The research now published in Cellular Reports involved Caenorhabditis elegans, one of the known species of nematode worms (or roundworms). Unlike other roundworms, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) is completely harmless.
It is also non-pathogenic. It delights living in the soil and feeding on the microbes from dead plants.
While it is a “simple creature,” it has a unique characteristic.
It shares many similar attributes to the human body down to function and genetics. This makes it an ideal animal model besides mice and fruit flies in the lab.
What’s more, it has a shorter lifespan. Researchers can get results and compare data faster.
For the study, the researchers tweaked two signaling pathways that many of their colleagues view vital in regulating human lifespan:
- Insulin signaling pathway (IIS)
- TOR pathway
What are signaling pathways? These are chemical reactions involving different molecules working together to regulate cellular function.
By changing the signaling pathways, the lifespan of the organism increased by 500%.
It is surprising since previous studies showed the increase is 100% at most and 30% at least. In other studies, the increased lifespan was only twofold.
What Are These Signaling Pathways?
While the study extends worm lifespan, it’s also essential to understand its value to you, a human being. To do that, we need to know more about these signaling pathways.
1. IIS Pathways
The IIS pathways revolve around insulin and insulin-like growth factors (IGFs).
Insulin is a hormone secreted by the beta cells of the pancreas. Its role is to deliver glucose or blood sugar to cells, which use it as fuel or energy.
You can picture insulin as the messenger or a school bus driver, bringing a letter or a child to the right home.
More studies, though, showed that the influence of insulin on mammals goes beyond this. According to Worm Book, it can regulate:
- Stress resistance
- Fat metabolism
- Reproductive aging
- Longevity and aging
That’s why manipulating the IIS pathway may also help control the aging process. So far, much of the research involved animals, such as the roundworms, flies, and mice.
The scientists hope the results may also be the same should these experiments were on humans. But what are these outcomes?
First, they learned that by decreasing the activity of IIS signaling pathways, animals showed extended lifespans and health spans. In other words, they are not only living longer but also healthier.
Meanwhile, increased insulin may boost the risk of age-related diseases. Take, for example, insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance happens when cells become less sensitive to the hormone. It can signal the pancreas to produce more until the organ can break down.
Since insulin fails to deliver glucose, blood sugar levels can rise. It can then increase the risk of hypertension or diabetes.
Diabetes has a co-morbidity or association with other chronic illnesses. These include some types of cancer, chronic kidney disease, and heart disorders.
The IIS pathway also plays a role in managing the stress response. In particular, it can influence the level of oxidative stress.
Cellular functions can create by-products such as free radicals or reactive oxygen species.
As you age, you produce more of them. It can be a problem when you don’t have enough antioxidants.
When you have more free radicals than antioxidants, you have oxidative stress. This can introduce and speed up aging.
Signs of aging then raises your risk of diseases.
2. TOR Pathway
Most scientists refer to this as the mTOR pathway. It plays a huge role in how cells function from cellular metabolism to growth.
A 2009 study in the Journal of Cell Science shared that the protein complex may even be vital in the proliferation or development of tumors. This pathway also relates to IIS by regulating it, according to a 2017 research in Nutrients.
This pathway can also influence autophagy, a process where cells get rid of its junk to pave the way for healthier and newer cells. While it’s an essential factor for life extension, mTOR inhibits it.
For this reason, scientists are looking into the role of rapamycin, a drug used to prevent rejection after organ transplantation. It inhibits the pathway by binding to another protein called FKBP12.
Rapamycin is a significant factor in regulating TOR that the letter “r” in its abbreviation stands for rapamycin. All in all, mTOR means the mammalian target of rapamycin.
Mitochondria and Lifespan Extension
Aging is a risk factor for many age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and diabetes. The process of aging, though, can vary between people.
For example, two persons may have the same age. But one of them may appear older than the other in skin quality and mobility.
Others can attribute youthfulness to the person’s genetic predisposition. More scientists are focusing on mitochondrial activity.
What is a mitochondrion? It is the powerhouse of the cell since it generates the energy the cell needs to function.
A 2017 research showed a correlation between reduced mitochondrial activity and chronic illnesses. It could be because the dysfunction may mean:
- Alterations in the gene expression
- Increased levels of free radicals and oxidative stress
- Formation of senescent cells or aging cells that are no longer capable of cellular division
- Potential proliferation of tumor cells
Mitochondria also interact with the two signaling pathways mentioned above:
- The mitochondrion will generate free radicals during its processes. Higher levels of it can increase the risk of insulin resistance.
- The mTOR pathway regulates many functions and processes of the mitochondria. It also influences the insulin signaling pathway.
So How Do You Extend Life?
Nowadays, many regenerative medicine clinics advertise a variety of anti-aging treatments. These include stem cells.
These cells can specialize or differentiate into specific cells or tissues. For this reason, the anti-aging facilities use it to replace old and diseased cells.
The new study extends worm lifespan but also provides other types of information. There are different ways to deal with aging.
However, it may be more complex. For example, effective anti-aging therapy may influence or regulate both mTOR and IIS pathways.
In reality, scientists still don’t know how these pathways can manipulate aging, but other data suggest two:
- Calorie restriction
- Intermittent fasting (IF)
1. Calorie Restriction
For many years, some health experts discourage reducing your calorie intake. It may force your body to store more fat, thinking you’re in a state of famine.
Newer research, though, cites how it may have a positive long-term effect: it can help extend life.
- It can slow down your basal metabolism and thus, the production of free radicals. It may then decrease the oxidative stress that damages cells and tissues.
- Reducing calories may improve insulin sensitivity or decrease insulin resistance.
The study further notes how caloric restriction helps Okinawans live longer. School children, for instance, eat only 62% of the recommended energy intake.
Okinawa in Japan is one of the blue zones regions, which are places where residents have longer and healthier lives. The majority of them recommend eating until you’re 80% full.
It doesn’t mean you should eat less of anything. Based on the study on the school children, they have decreased carbs, but their consumption of fat and protein is the same as the rest of the Japanese.
2. Intermittent Fasting (IF)
IF can be a form of calorie restriction since you may skip meals or eat less on certain days. It can also do so much more:
A new study extends worm lifespan, true, but the reality is there’s so much more to learn about reversing aging.
Fortunately, you can do something while you wait. You can begin by knowing your biological age with tools such as TruAge.
This nifty kit can tell you how fast you’re aging, so you can understand your risks to age-related diseases. With the help of a specialist, you can also follow plans that will help delay aging while waiting for more therapies.
Do you practice intermittent fasting? Share how it benefits your health in the comments section below!
- Epigenetic Clock: Can Our Body’s Biological Age Be Reversed?
- What Is Epigenetics? The Modification Of Gene Expression [INFOGRAPHIC]
- What Is Nicotinamide Riboside? What Does It Do?