The secret to a longer and healthier life could be tucked away inside your medicine cabinet.
Researchers at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging say regular doses of ibuprofen, a common over-the-counter pain reliever, extended the lifespan of yeast, worms and fruit flies – and could potentially do the same for humans.
“There is a lot to be excited about. Not only did all the species live longer, but the treated flies and worms appeared more healthy,” said Brian Kennedy, PhD, CEO of the Buck Institute in Novato, California. “The research shows that ibuprofen impacts a process not yet implicated in aging, giving us a new way to study and understand the aging process.”
The 3-year study, which is published online in PLoS Genetics, is the result of a collaboration between the Buck Institute and Texas A & M’s Agrilife program.
Researchers found that ibuprofen interfered with the ability of yeast cells to pick up tryptophan, an amino acid found in every cell of every organism. Tryptophan is essential for humans, who get it from protein sources such as turkey in the diet.
“We first used baker’s yeast, which is an established aging model, and noticed that the yeast treated with ibuprofen lived longer,” said Dr. Michael Polymenis, an AgriLife Research biochemist at Texas A & M. in College Station.
“Then we tried the same process with worms and flies and saw the same extended lifespan. Plus, these organisms not only lived longer, but also appeared healthy.”
He said the treatment, given at doses comparable to the recommended human dose, added about 15 percent more to the species lives. In humans, that would be equivalent to another dozen or so years of healthy living.
“We are not sure why this works, but it’s worth exploring further. This study was a proof of principle, to show that common, relatively safe drugs in humans can extend the lifespan of very diverse organisms,” said Polymenis. “Therefore, it should be possible to find others like ibuprofen with even better ability to extend lifespan, with the aim of adding healthy years of life in people.”
Ibuprofen is in same the class of medicine known as NSAID’s – nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs used to reduce pain, fever and inflammation. Although relatively safe, NSAID’s can have adverse side effects. People on high doses of the drugs are up to four times greater risk for bleeding ulcers or other significant gastrointestinal problems. NSAID’s have also been linked to heart problems and irregular heartbeats.
But ibuprofen appeared to have a stimulating effect on worms
“Healthy worms tend to thrash a lot and the treated worms thrashed much longer than would be normally expected. As they aged, they also swallowed food much faster than expected,” said Chong He, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Buck Institute and lead author of the study.
“The levels of ibuprofen that extend the lifespan of worms and yeast are in the range of ibuprofen levels reached in people taking the drug at typical doses. Overall, our results add to the growing role of NSAIDs, and ibuprofen in particular. These compounds are relatively safe therapeutics that may combat age-related pathologies and extend the lifespan of divergent organisms, from yeast to invertebrates and possibly mammals.