Aging can get old fast. That we exist in these frail mortal forms is a biological insult we’ve been trying to fix for millennia. Mankind has tried just about everything, from finding fountains of youth and philosopher’s stones to concoct elixirs of life.
The elixirs inspired the 1992 black comedy Death becomes her, which saw Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn fight for eternal life while battling alongside a bewildered Bruce Willis. In the film, living forever comes at a high cost. Although an individual does not die once they consume the magic potion, their body continues to decay. It is best, of course, that as we extend our lifespan, we also extend the health of our bodies so that those extra years can be enjoyed. Scientists have scoured biology for ways to stop and reverse the effects of aging and the final entry on the list of potential potions is none other than the humble Sea Spray.
Researchers from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the University of China Academy of Sciences, along with colleagues from Stanford and Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool universities, studied the effects of plasmalogens found in sea squirts and found them beneficial for the length and quality of life in mice. Their findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Molecular Biology.
Plasmalogens are produced naturally in the human body and are essential for heart, brain and immune system health. About 20% of all phospholipids in the body are plasmalogens, but they are particularly rich in the aforementioned systems and are essential for their continued health. Unfortunately, as we age, the level of plasmalogens in the body decreases and the efficiency of the heart, brain and immune systems decreases with them.
While aging results from a complex series of physiological factors, reversing the decline of plasmalogens in the body could have a significant impact on health and well-being as we age. Previous research has even found a correlation between decreased plasmalogen levels and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Sea squirts, on the other hand, are rich in plasmalogens, and adding them to our diet could pass these plasmalogens into our own bodies and help reverse the natural decline we experience over time.
To test this hypothesis, scientists fed mice a diet that included plasmalogen supplements and then tested their cognitive abilities and physical health. The mice were placed in a water maze with the aim of finding a platform. Mice usually avoid swimming when they can and quickly search for land. Using a water maze inspired them to find their way.
Due to the built-in incentive to get out of the water, the mice quickly learn where the platform is and head for it, but older mice take longer to find their way, due to the decline of their cognitive abilities. However, when older mice were given plasmalogen supplements, their performance improved to levels comparable to younger mice. In fact, the increase in plasmalogens not only halted the effects of aging, but reversed them.
By examining their brains and bodies, scientists found that mice fed a plasmalogen-rich diet showed decreased levels of inflammation throughout their bodies, including the brain. They also had a higher number and quality of neural connections, which allowed them to create new neural pathways and learn new tasks better than a control group. In short, they got younger in many of the most important ways.
It is unclear exactly how dietary plasmalogens pass from the digestive system to the body as a whole and positively impact body and brain functions. It is clear, however, that they do. And eating sea squirts is an effective way to restore plasmalogen levels, at least in mice. The results were convincing enough that one of the study authors started taking a daily plasmalogen supplement. Prevention is better than cure, even if it means eating faceless sea life.
Raw sea squirts might not sound very appetizing – although they’re regularly consumed in some parts of the world – but if you’re concerned about aging, they’re definitely better than a magic potion that forces you to live while your body is collapsing all around you.
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