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Longevity

Longevity Briefs: Eat Your Carrots – You Might Just Live Longer

Posted on 13 December 2023

Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

The problem: We consume thousands of distinct chemicals via our food on a daily basis. Some of these chemicals are good for us, some are bad for us, and others we are not even aware of. A few food compounds appear to directly affect the biology of ageing and have even been found to extend lifespan in animal models. These compounds are quite unlikely to have a large effect on human lifespan, but we should still be on the lookout for them so that we may incorporate them into our diets or obtain them via supplements. Studying how they work may also teach us more about how we age and what we can do about it.

The discovery: Researchers have discovered a previously unidentified compound in carrots with the ability to extend lifespan in animal models. This compound, called isofalcarintriol (IFT), is a member of a family of organic molecules called polyacetylenes that play many roles in plants, including defence against pathogens. In humans, polyacetylenes often have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Survival of mice treated with DMSO (control, black line) or 1 nanomolar IFT (orange line).
A naturally occurring polyacetylene isolated from carrots promotes health and delays signatures of aging

In this study, researchers screened 1200 plant compounds and singled out IFT through its effects in the mitochondria. Mitochondria are the power plants of our cells with the primary purpose of using nutrients to generate ATP, the cell’s universal fuel. The researchers found that IFT inhibited the enzyme within the mitochondria that is responsible for synthesising ATP, resulting in reduced ATP production. While this might sound like a bad thing, low ATP levels are usually a sign of low nutrient intake, and our cells have evolved protective mechanisms that are activated when ATP is low. 

When researchers gave IFT to C. elegans worms, they lived 17% longer on average than the controls at the highest dose tested. They also found that while ATP production in the mitochondria of the worms decreased in the short-term, ATP production was actually higher than the untreated worms in the long term. A possible explanation for this came when researchers gave IFT to mice that were fed a high fat diet. They found that these mice became more sensitive to the blood sugar-lowering hormone insulin. Their cells absorbed more glucose from the blood, leading to a reduction in blood sugar (and more glucose available for the mitochondria to produce more ATP).

Relative ATP production in C. elegans worms after 15 minutes and 48 hours in controls (grey bars), worms given two concentrations of IFT (orange bars).
A naturally occurring polyacetylene isolated from carrots promotes health and delays signatures of aging

They also found that IFT could suppress various age-related diseases. IFT suppressed division of cancer cells, protected worms against the effects of neurodegenerative disease and reduced frailty in elderly mice.

The implications: IFT looks like it could be a promising dietary compound worthy of further study in animals and humans alike. Since this is the first study to identify IFT, we should be cautiously optimistic until other studies have been able to replicate its effects. In addition to studying its effects on ageing, this study also developed methods for synthesising IFT, which should make future investigations easier.


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    References

    A naturally occurring polyacetylene isolated from carrots promotes health and delays signatures of aging https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-023-43672-7

    Title image by Armando Arauz

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