How garlic hides the key to eternal youth

“When you run into something interesting, drop everything else and study it.”

– B. F. Skinner

I was about to write today’s essay on organic solar cells. But as I was researching it I stumbled on to something much, much more interesting.

“Ageing in human cells successfully reversed in the lab,” read the headline.

Usually when you see these kinds of claims it’s from a clickbait site, misquoting a scientific study. But not this one.

The article was published in The Conversation, whose science reporting is done in tandem with the researchers who carried it out.

This article was no exception. It was written by the study’s researchers from the University of Exeter: Lorna Harries, associate professor in molecular genetics, and Matt Whiteman, professor of experimental therapeutics.

From the article:

There are many reasons why our cells and tissues stop functioning, but a new focus in the biology of ageing is the accumulation of “senescent” cells in the tissues and organs.

As I understand it, senescent cells are basically just old or damaged cells. Once cells have divided a certain number of times, they stop dividing.

So they stop functioning as they should. But they still remain where they were. These old, useless cells then basically get in the way and start messing up other processes.

Imagine if you’re driving in a busy city and random cars just stop in the middle of the road and never start moving again.

Over time, if no one moves these cars out of the road, it’s going to bring the whole city to a standstill.

Those stopped cars are the equivalent of senescent cells in your body.

As the study’s authors note:

Removal of these old dysfunctional cells has been shown to improve many features of ageing in animals such as the delayed onset of cataracts.

Instead of removing these cells, the authors took a different approach. They state that:

Each cell in the body contains all the information needed for life, but not all genes are switched on in all tissues or under all conditions. This is one of the ways that a heart cell is different from a kidney cell, despite the fact they contain the same genes.

The mechanism that tells the cells what to turn into is called a splicing factor. And as we age we can make less of these splicing factors. Splicing factors are also reduced in senescent cells.

So the researchers’ approach was to try rejuvenate these splicing factors. And they succeeded:

In our new work, we showed that by treating old cells with a chemical that releases small amounts of hydrogen sulphide, we were able to increase levels of some splicing factors, and to rejuvenate old human cells.

Hydrogen sulphide is a molecule that is found naturally in our bodies and has been shown to improve several features of age-related disease in animals. But it can be toxic in large amounts, so we needed to find a way to deliver it directly to the part of the cell where it is needed.

By using a “molecular postcode” we have been able to deliver the molecule directly to the mitochondria, the structures that produce energy in cells, where we think it acts, allowing us to use tiny doses, which are less likely to cause side effects.

It’s all very promising. And the researchers believe they will eventually be able to use this method to remove senescent cells in living people and “target multiple age-related diseases at once”.

So what does this have to so with garlic?

Now, one of the most interesting things about this study is the chemical they used, hydrogen sulphide (H2S).

While I was researching around this study, I saw this comment on Reddit:

That 2007 study the redditor linked discovered that:

The consumption of garlic is inversely correlated with the progression of cardiovascular disease, although the responsible mechanisms remain unclear. Here we show that human RBCs convert garlic-derived organic polysulfides into hydrogen sulfide (H2S), an endogenous cardioprotective vascular cell signaling molecule.

So basically, that higher consumption of garlic leads to better heart health and that they believe the reason for this is garlic is converted into H2s.

And it’s far from the only study to link garlic with better heart health.

Here’s another from 2014 stating it has:

Shown promise in the treatment of uncontrolled hypertension, lowering blood pressure (BP) by about 10 mmHg systolic and 8 mmHg diastolic, similar to standard BP medication.

The reason given, again, was “Garlic-derived polysulfides stimulate the production of the vascular gasotransmitter hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and enhance the regulation of endothelial nitric oxide (NO).”

The more you research it, the more you see garlic linked to H2s and anti-ageing. There’s even a 2003 study, which states:

Garlic has strong antioxidant properties and it has been suggested that garlic can prevent cardiovascular disease, inhibit platelet aggregation, thrombus formation, prevent cancer, diseases associated with cerebral aging, arthritis, cataract formation, and rejuvenate skin, improve blood circulation and energy levels. This review provides an insight in to garlic’s antioxidant properties and presents evidence that it may either prevent or delay chronic diseases associated with aging.

And, of course, countless less scientific anecdotes and articles.

What I though was intriguing is that as the above study stated, garlic “has been used throughout the history of civilization for treating a wide variety of ailments associated with aging.”

And now science might have just discovered why.

It would be great if it turned out it was actually all the garlic in the fabled Mediterranean diet that was prolonging lives of those “100 year old Italian grandparents.”

Health gurus have always plugged the olive oil and red wine as the keys to a long and healthy life, but I don’t remember garlic ever being shilled in the same way.

Back to the scientific side, it will be very interesting to see how this research progresses.

There is clearly more to reversing ageing than just eating garlic. As the study authors say, they have developed a method to deliver H2S to the exact part of the cell where it is needed.

Perhaps the researchers really will eventually come up with a product to reverses ageing. It’s certainly a story I’ll be following very closely.

In the meantime, I don’t think you can just start eating more garlic and reverse your ageing. But maybe you can slow it down, just a little. Maybe.

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

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