From Mitochondria to Orange Juice

A great example of the need for caution and careful reading when following science in even the more reputable mainstream media can be found at the BBC. You might recall the buzz over recent work on mitochondria and aging that implies free radical damage is not as important a mechanism of aging as thought. The folks on the Gerontology Research Group list have suggested a wait and see approach - much the same as the line taken by Aubrey de Grey in this piece:

Dr Aubrey de Grey, an expert in ageing research at the University of Cambridge, said: "This is an important study, building on similar work by a couple of other groups over the past few years.

"It would be premature to say that these studies are conclusive with regard to the role of mitochondrial mutations in ageing, but they certainly imply that cell death, especially of stem cells, can make a big difference to the rate of ageing."

He said it was important to be cautious because it was impossible to be sure that something which shortens life if you accelerate it is also lifespan-limiting when it proceeds at its natural rate.

"Ideally, we would develop mice that had better mitochondrial DNA repair and maintenance and lived longer as a result, but we don't have that result yet."

The attention-grabbing header of the article - involving large quantities of orange juice, antioxidants and the dispelling of dearly held theories - is somewhat sensationalist, even if it may not appear as such to the casual reader.


The guys over at bbc obviously over did it, and got it wrong. Nutrients/supplements that fight free radicals and target the mitochondria should in theory reduce the likelyhood of mitochondrial mutations occuring. Even with normal maintainance/repair mechanisms in place the mutations will still take hold and accumulate only at a lower rate, this would seem to be even more so for extremely long lived organisms(more time for errors to accumulate).

Such supplements/nutrients should increase lifespan and extend healthspan... and it does seem like such is the case, at least in some studies done in animals.

Other nutrients/supplements and diet modifications, can help extend lifespan by decreasing the likelyhood of getting cardiovascular disease, of cancer, avoiding nutrient/mineral defficiencies, maintaining a healthy weight, etc.

Though when supplementing, one ought to be VERY VERY CAREFUL. From what I hear the supplement market(at least in the USA) is full of products that don't have the quality, the quantity, and some times not even the substance indicated, and as such there are things that go from uneffective to even harmful.

But as said by many(including here), supplements/nutrients/diets can at most only seemingly help square the survival curve. It doesn't seem like maximum lifespan will be extended significantly by such. But increasing the likelyhood of survival and delaying the ravages of old age in this day and age, is without a doubt something that could allow one to see the time when the disease of aging is finally cured.

Posted by: Apocalypse at July 19th, 2005 12:36 PM

As i've read some of this over the past weeks/months I've come to think that although all these supplements / antioxidants do not extend ones life span. Instead, they give you a better chance of actually reaching old age.

Posted by: Matt at July 19th, 2005 5:52 PM

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