Nov 15, 2017 by Comfort Keepers Newark, DE
In our bodies, one tiny little occurrence in our cells can have drastic consequences. For example, a tiny mutation in our DNA, the code that dictates our genes, can cause a plethora of diseases.
Another example, this time a positive one, is changes in our mitochondria. These little organelles have a large impact on anything from the energy our body creates to genetics.
Now, new research is showing that manipulating these little guys may help us live a healthier, longer life:
This word may sound familiar to you from some biology class you took way back when, but let’s refresh ourselves. A mitochondrion (plural is mitochondria) is dubbed the “powerhouse of the cell” because of how much work it does breaking down nutrients and creating energy.
Depending on the need and energy expenditure of the particular cell, some may have no mitochondria while others have thousands. For example, muscle cells need more energy than neurons do, so they have much more mitochondria. More mitochondria can be created within a cell to increase energy production if needed. Mitochondria can actually change shape, too, depending on the cell’s energy needs.
As we get older, however, this ability to change shape as needed declines. It wasn’t known until this study that this decrease in flexibility and functionality of this organelle has an impact on lifespan and how healthily someone ages.
You may have heard the theory before that a lower calorie diet can actually lengthen your lifespan. Through endless research, this has been shown to be true, though the mechanism is not entirely understood.
However, these researchers have opened that door a little more. By manipulating AMP-activated protein kinase, a protein that senses energy in the cell, they were able to mimic the conditions of a low-calorie diet. Using this method, they studied the mitochondrial networks in nematode worms, and the results were astonishing.
This manipulation caused mitochondrial networks to remain “youthful” as the worms aged. Not only that, but they observed that lifespan can be increased with these youthful networks because they help regulate fat metabolism in the body.
Obviously, the exact observations in nematode worms are probably not going to reflect in humans. The next step is to see how calorie restriction affects mitochondrial networks in mammals. The researchers also plan on studying the possible link between the flexibility of mitochondria and the association found between obesity and having a higher risk for age-related conditions.
Despite this, this is great research in and of itself. Understanding how a lower calorie diet lengthens lifespan and what mechanism is involved is the first crucial step in being able to use this method therapeutically.