Researchers discover proteins that can slow down ageing – in worms

Humans have dreamt of eternal life since the dawn of time. Without going so far as to promise immortality, some researchers have recently made astonishing discoveries about the role of certain proteins made by our bodies. Called sirtuins, they could have a positive effect against ageing.

It is easy to observe the effects of age on ourselves or on the people around us: wrinkles appear, hair whitens… But what exactly is going on inside our bodies? In fact, if our bodies age, it’s because our cells age: as they are regenerated over the course of our lives, our cells experience more and more copy errors, especially in DNA.

This phenomenon causes genetic mutations, which eventually weakens them. This weakening of cells is linked to the ageing process, which can also lead to greater susceptibility to diseases.

Fortunately, our body has an important asset: thanks to very specific genes, it has the ability to repair damaged DNA. These genes produce a certain family of proteins (enzymes more precisely) called sirtuins. When present enough, these proteins will help repair our DNA when it is the victim of genetic mutations, and thus slow down ageing.

The key to youth?

The researchers delved deeper into the properties of these proteins and developed a small experiment to better understand their effects. After taking genes that make sirtuins, they multiplied them and then introduced them into the cells of a small roundworm.

The result? These sirtuin-doped worms lived much longer: 50% longer than normal worms.

The idea of living up to 120 years in good health makes you dream. But we still have to check if what happens to the worms also applies to us. So the researchers continued their research.

They realised that humans naturally produce sirtuins, especially under certain conditions. Among other things, in a situation of caloric restriction. What does this mean? Put simply when we’re hungry, or we’re in a situation of intermittent fasting, we produce more sirtuins.

Changing eating patterns

The researchers have identified two “tricks” among others to optimise the production of sirtuins when it comes to intermittent fasting: the first is that the fast must last 12 hours; the second is that it is better to fast at night than to fast during the day. This means that when finishing your evening meal at 21:00 for example, it is advisable to wait until 09:00 the next day to eat again.

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Aware of the financial potential of such a discovery, some scientists go even further. They are trying to develop dietary supplements based on sirtuins. Their goal? Offering consumers supplements that are supposed to extend their life expectancy without the need to starve themselves.

All this research has not yet given rise to reliable and definitive results. It is difficult to know what outcome they will have: for example, it is not known whether the development of possible sirtuin-based dietary supplements could be effective and whether these supplements may generate undesirable side effects.


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