If someone told you there was a pill you could buy that would add years to your life, you'd probably say, "Thanks, but I haven't financially recovered from my last pyramid scheme yet."
It sounds implausible, but researchers at McMaster University claim to have created the ultimate "supplement," designed to add years to your life. This potentially life-altering substance is basically a bunch of vitamins and minerals you've already heard of, but the specifics are more nuanced than devouring salads and taking a Flintstones vitamin every day.
What's in this magical supplement, and where can I get it?
The supplement is a mix of 30 vitamins, minerals, and other ingredients you can get at basically any pharmacy, things like B vitamins, vitamin C, green tea extract, and cod liver oil. In other words, if you knew the exact formula and ratios, you could build your own anti-aging supplement in your local drugstore. Good luck tracking down the specific recipe, though.
It's one thing to throw a bunch of vitamins together and claim you've created the pill version of the Fountain of Youth, and another to prove it works. Since developing it in 2000, a team of scientists led by Dr. Jennifer Lemon has tested their concoction on mice, with preliminary results showing what appears to be as close to a miracle as science will allow -- mice with the equivalent of severe Alzheimer's stopped losing brain cells, reversed their cognitive decline, and even enhanced their senses of sight and smell.
The results are encouraging enough that human experiments should start up within the next two years, and if those go well, you better start putting away more money for retirement.
How is this possible if these vitamins aren't new?
As you age, you start to lose some of your brain function, which unfortunately includes parts of your brain actually shrinking. This results in a pretty raw deal. You start to have a more difficult time learning new things, and a more difficult time remembering things. This is clearly a bad combo.
The idea that supplements and vitamins might stave off some of these cruel effects of time isn't new, but no one's been able to show such strong results, even in mice. Studies have previously looked into how B complex vitamins may work together with omega-3 fatty acids to slow down brain atrophy rates. Vitamin C has likewise been examined for its brain benefits, as has vitamin D, folic acid, and omega-3 fatty acids on their own. The difference here, though, seems to be how they all work together on the brain, and according to Dr. Lemon, "We now have a pretty good understanding of how the supplement protects the brain and body in both normal aging and neurodegenerative conditions."
Her team is gearing up to start human clinical trials to see if humans respond similarly. They'll start with normal, healthy humans who are on the older side, and then progress to folks who are suffering from neurodegenerative diseases. Anyone familiar with the painful process of Alzheimer's knows that any kind of effective treatment would radically change lives for the better.
Dr. Lemon notes that most efforts to slow down the aging process have focused on one factor or symptom of aging, which is likely why individual components haven't been successful. She says, "What [fellow team members] Drs. Aksenov, Rollo, Boreham, and I discovered was that if you simultaneously protect several of the key processes that contribute to that deterioration, you can significantly slow aging and offset both physical and mental dysfunction." In other words, rather than honing in on omega-3s, or focusing on memory improvements, the team went for the whole shebang. And it seems to work.
If human trials go well, this formula will eventually be produced by a company called BioVerity which was formed as a result of the team's years of study on these nutritional components and how they boost the brain. You knew there would be some money to be made in a pill that stops your brain from getting old!
What if I can't wait two whole years to slow down my aging brain?
Dr. Lemon suggests that if you like your brain, you probably shouldn't sit around like a lump of dough, even if you're still young. "There is lots of evidence that generally people have fewer issues as they age if they are physically active, do activities that keep their minds sharp (i.e., reading, puzzles, hobbies, learning new things, etc.), and eat well," she says. Sometimes timeless advice is the best advice.
When asked if she feels they are making a difference in the world, she says that all scientists hope their work and research has a positive effect on the world in some way. "From the beginning, we hoped to use the supplement to benefit people by extending how long they remain physically and mentally healthy," she explains. "If the supplement is successful, we have the potential of improving the lives of a lot of people." And that is no small feat.
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