COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Imagine a future where a supplement in your beer wards off liver cancer and improves cardiovascular health. Spermidine, a strange-sounding substance that earned its name from where it was first found — in semen — may play a part in living a longer, healthier life, a recent study finds.
Researchers at Texas A&M wondered whether spermidine could impact life expectancy and health. The compound is found naturally in aged cheeses (think cheddar), meats (especially beef), legumes (such as soybeans, green peas and chick peas), whole grains, fruits and vegetables (most notably mushrooms).
In a news release, they reported that animals given oral supplements of spermidine lived longer and also had healthier livers.
“It’s a dramatic increase in lifespan of animal models, as much as 25 percent,” says study co-author Leyuan Liu, PhD, an assistant professor at the university’s Institute of Biosciences and Technology’s Center for Translational Cancer Research. “In human terms, that would mean that instead of living to about 81 years old, the average American could live to be over 100.”
For spermidine to have the greatest impact on longevity, however, we would need to start babies on the supplement as soon as they begin solid foods. While animals starting the supplement later in life had just a 10 percent increase in lifespan, they also had quality of life improvements –heart benefits as well as fewer cancerous liver tumors and liver fibrosis.
Three previous solutions known to vastly increase vertebrate lifespans have huge downsides. The first requires a massive reduction in calories consumed, the second restricts meat consumption and the third involves the drug rapamycin, which increases lifespan but at the cost of a suppressed immune system.
Spermidine appears to be a better choice. If spermidine can be made into a food supplement and determined to be safe, it could be a great way to boost longevity and health, the researchers argue.
Liu says it is still too early to know how spermidine might eventually be used to increase human lifespans and improve overall health. He dreams of adding it to foods in the same way folic acid is now added to grain products to prevent neural tube defects.
“Just think: if we added spermidine to every bottle of beer, it might balance out the alcohol and help protect the liver,” he said.
The study’s findings were published in the journal Cancer Research.