The ruby red fruit was revered by the ancients as a “food of the gods”, but it has taken until now for scientists to identify the precise chemical that holds the key to staying youthful.
Researchers in Switzerland have now alighted on a single molecule – urolithin A – which they believe drives a process called mitophagy, allowing parts of the cell that become defective to be cleared away, making way for replacements.
However, humans can only benefit from the anti-ageing chemical if they possess the right sort of bacteria in their gut. The microbes are needed to convert the fruit’s raw ingredient into urolithin A.
The scientists have already set up a company, Amazentis, to exploit the discovery, and early clinical trials testing finely calibrated doses of the molecule in human patients are under way in a number of European hospitals.
Professor Johan Auwerx, from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, in Switzerland, said: “We believe this research is a milestone in current anti-ageing efforts, and illustrates the opportunity of rigorously tested nutritional bioactive agents that we consider to have outstanding potential for human health.”
The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, focused on mitochondria – tiny rod-like “power plants” in cells that play a vital role in turning food into energy.
Over time, mitochondria become worn out and damaged, mitophagy becomes less efficient and cells end up cluttered with old, poorly functioning mitochondria.
This harms the health of many organs and tissues and weakens muscles.
The build-up of dysfunctional mitochondria is associated with many conditions of ageing, such as Parkinson’s disease.
A host of health benefits have already been linked to pomegranates with varying degrees of evidence.
The fruit is packed with antioxidants and is said to reduce the risk of heart disease and fight inflammation and arthritis, improve memory, boost exercise performance, and combat prostate cancer.