Older male mice given water laced with a special concoction of amino acids, they live longer than your average mouse. The study from Italy found that a supplemental mixture of branched-chain amino acids, specifically leucine, isoleucine, and valine, gave the mice the longer life.
Whether it works for humans, well that is another study.
“This is the first demonstration that an amino acid mixture can increase survival in mice,” said Enzo Nisoli of Milan University in Italy, noting that researchers last year showed that leucine, isoleucine, and valine extend the life span of single-celled yeast.
The findings in older mice suggest that the supplementary mixture may be specifically beneficial for those who are elderly or ill. “It may not be useful in young people or body builders,” who are already in good condition, he said. But it might be a useful preventive strategy, he added, emphasizing that the mice they studied “were just aged, not sick.”
The study is published in the journal Cell Metabolism.
In the new study, the researchers gave healthy middle-aged, male mice extra branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) in their drinking water. Animals that were given the extra amino acids over a period of months lived 12 percent longer.
The longer lived mice also showed an increase in mitochondria in cardiac and skeletal muscles. Mitochondria are the cellular components responsible for powering cells. The supplement-fed mice also showed increased activity of SIRT1, a well-known longevity gene, and of the defense system that combats free radicals. on the flip side, they showed fewer signs of oxidative damage.
The amino acid pump mice also showed better in exercise endurance and motor coordination.
Nisoli emphasized that consuming amino acid supplements is different from consuming proteins containing those amino acids. That’s because they do not have to be digested, and can enter the bloodstream immediately. “They come with no energy cost.”
He suspects that BCAA nutritional supplements may prove to be particularly helpful for people with heart failure, the muscle-wasting condition known as sarcopenia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or other conditions characterized by energy defects. In fact, there are already some small studies in human to support that idea and BCAA supplements are already available for purchase in several countries, including Italy.
The challenge, Nisoli says, will be convincing clinicians that these supplements might be a benefit to their patients. He says a large clinical trial is needed, but there is little incentive for companies to do such trials for dietary supplements as opposed to drugs.
Overall, Nisoli said the new work supports a “general philosophy of a nutritional approach to disease, aging, and problems of energy status.”