In eastern mythologies, this fruit is a symbol of eternal life. Swiss researchers have now revealed how one of its molecules can slow the ageing process.
1. Are pomegranates the new elixir of immortality?
Probably not, but as early as 5000 BCE, the Indian Ayurveda recognized the health-enhancing properties of pomegranate juice. But modern science could never explain why. Not, that is, until Johan Auwerx and his team at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) began working on the problem in collaboration with Swiss start-up Amazentis. They fed two very different laboratory model organisms urolithin A, a molecule produced by gut bacteria from a precursor found in pomegranate fruits. They discovered that in small doses urolithin A could extend the lifespan of worms by 45 per cent, and when tested in older mice their endurance improved by 42 per cent.
2. How could it extend life?
Urolithin A was found to promote mitophagy, a maintenance mechanism responsible for the recycling of damaged mitochondria – the cell’s powerhouses. It enables cells to protect themselves against one of the major causes of ageing. “Urolithin A is the only compound known to boost this cleanup process,” explains Auwerx. Amazentis hopes to have it approved for the treatment of muscle degeneration in the elderly. Toxicity tests have already been successfully completed and the company is now preparing their first efficacy study in humans.
3. But if the fruit contains the solution, why sell it in a pill?
“The gut microbiome can vary substantially between patients,” says Auwerx. “In the absence of the right flora, no urolithin A will be produced and in most cases people would not get a high enough dose from drinking pomegranate juice.” While Amazentis is interested in marketing the molecule as a nutraceutical – a natural product with health improving effect – Auwerx and his team will carry on the work to identify the last missing piece of the pomegranate puzzle. “Finding the exact cellular target of the molecule will be essential to develop better treatments in the future,” he explains.
Read more about it: Pomegranate finally reveals its powerful anti-aging secret