A compound that holds potential for promoting longevity was discovered in Ashitaba plants, which are traditionally used for Japanese medicine.
Researchers at the Institute of Molecular Biosciences in Graz University, Austria screened 180 compounds representing different subclasses of flavonoids — “plant chemicals” that promote cellular health — and identified one as a promising fountain of youth.
The compound, 4,4’-dimethoxychalcone (DMC), is found in the stipes and leaves of Angelica keiskei koidzumi, commonly known by its Japanese name ashitaba or “tomorrow leaf.”
Ashitaba, consumed in both fresh and dried forms, has traditionally been used to treat conditions such as heartburn, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, bowel retention, and food poisoning.
Researchers tested DMC on yeast, worms and fruit flies before moving on to mice and cultured human cells. They confirmed that the compound induces autophagy, a process that removes damaged cells to make way for younger, healthier ones.
“This is a cleansing and recycling process,” co-author Frank Madeo told AFP. “[It removes] superfluous material, especially cellular garbage like aggregated proteins.”
As seen in the study, DMC prolonged the median lifespan of worms and fruit flies by 20%. It also protected the hearts of mice during reduced blood flow.
In cultured human cells, the compound slowed senescence, a process in which cells stop dividing and start growing, essentially increasing the risk for cancer.
The study, titled “The flavonoid 4,4′-dimethoxychalcone promotes autophagy-dependent longevity across species,” is published in the journal Nature Communications. Further research is necessary to confirm DMC’s effects on humans.
“The present work establishes the potential of DMC as a pharmacological instrument against ageing and age-related diseases. Future studies must explore whether DMC and/or its chemically defined derivatives can be advantageously used in humans as well,” the authors noted.