Researchers from the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and colleagues have discovered the anti-aging effects of two compounds. One is naturally occurring and found in red grapes and red wine, while the other is a drug commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes. The former, known as resveratrol, has been previously regarded for its health benefits and has even been called "an elixir of youth." The latter, a drug called metformin, has also been researched for its anti-cancer effects.
"We all slow down as we get older," said researcher Gregorio Valdez in a press release. "Gait, balance issues, and impaired motor coordination contribute to health problems, accidents, lack of mobility, and a lower quality of life. We work on identifying molecular changes that slow down motor deficits that occur with aging. I believe that we are getting closer to tapping into mechanisms to slow age-induced degeneration of neuronal circuits."
The team found that resveratrol can preserve muscle fibers and protect synapses from aging's crippling effects. To reach this conclusion, they conducted a study of two-year-old mice treated with resveratrol for a year (two years is generally considered "old" for mice). The team paid particular attention to how resveratrol affected synapses called neuromuscular junctions. These are crucial for voluntary movement, relaying motor commands from spinal cord neurons to muscles. The team published their study today in The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences.
Like Optimum Diet and Exercise
Neuromuscular junctions are known to benefit from optimum diet and exercise, which protect these special synapses from aging's wear and tear. Valdez and his team discovered that resveratrol can have similar effects, but the researcher clarified that these neuroprotective benefits won't be achieved by drinking red wine. "In wine, resveratrol is in such small amounts you could not drink enough of it in your life to have the benefits we found in mice given resveratrol," Valdez explained. "These studies are in mice and I would caution anyone from blasting their bodies with resveratrol in any form."
On the other hand, tests involving metformin revealed no significant effect on neuromuscular junctions. However, it slowed the rate of muscle fiber aging. "Metformin is an FDA-approved drug to treat diabetes, but our study hints it may also serve the purpose of slowing the motor dysfunction that occurs with aging," Valdez said.
He added that the anti-diabetes drug may protect synapses depending on dosage amounts: "There could be an opportunity for researchers and medical doctors to look at the patient population using this drug and ask whether metformin also has a positive effect on motor and cognitive function in humans."
The study expands the potential uses for the two compounds. Because metformin already has FDA approval, it may be easier to manufacture it as an anti-aging drug. As for resveratrol, the researchers plan to further study what exactly allows for these neuroprotective effects. "The next step is to identify the mechanism that enables resveratrol to protect synapses," Valdez said. "If we know the mechanism, we can modify resveratrol or look for other molecules that are more effective at protecting the synapses."