~ UC Berkeley Scientist Dr. Bruce Ames Teaches Rats the Macarena

The big 'news' around here this week was the announcement in the San Francisco Chronicle that Bruce Ames, University of California biochemist and cancer researcher, is touting Alpha-Lipoic Acid (LA) and Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) as a great combination for reversing the signs of aging.1 Ames is known as the developer of the Ames Test, which detects cancer-causing chemicals based on their ability to disrupt the genes of bacteria. He's also the guy who later argued that many pesticides were no more cancer causing than chemicals found in such foods as alfalfa sprouts, cabbage, peanut butter and potatoes.

The Chronicle quoted Ames as saying, "With the two supplements together, these old rats got up and did the Macarena." Interesting, but we have to ask, why is Ames promoting two nutrients commonly available in healthfood stores, and for which there already exists a tremendous amount of research and information?

For one thing, he contends that the two antioxidants work better together. One study concludes, "ALCAR+LA also increased ambulatory activity in both young and old rats; moreover, the improvement was significantly greater ... when compared with old rats fed ALCAR or LA alone. Feeding ALCAR in combination with LA increased metabolism and lowered oxidative stress more than either compound alone."2 This is apparently what led Ames to envision Macarenized rats.

Another Ames study concludes, "Dietary administration of ALCARand/or LA significantly reduced the extent of oxidized RNA, the combination being the most effective... These results suggest that feeding ALCAR and LA to old rats improves performance on memory tasks by lowering oxidative damage and improving mitochondrial function."3 Thus, it appears these rats could not only dance but could remember their lines too. Could a Broadway hit be far off?

In fact, it's well known that antioxidants work much better in combination than singly, so it's not surprising that LA and ALCAR work better together than alone. Alpha-Lipoic Acid also has a powerful insulin regulating effect, so much so that diabetics should carefully monitor their insulin levels as they introduce LA into their programs, as they may need to decrease their exogenous insulin over time. We have found that our 20-something customers need only about 50 mg of ALA; more than that can sometimes give rise to sugar cravings. People in their 40's and up can usually utilize much more.

50 volunteers in an anecdotal study have reported "a wide variety of positive effects," including: "Increased energy, elevated mood, steady emotional state, improved sleep, enhanced cognitive function, weight loss or improved weight control, decreased age pigment (lipofuscin) and lower blood pressure." Notably absent from this list is improved Flamenco dancing, but who knows, maybe they just need to add Vitamin C, Vitamin E, trace minerals including zinc, manganese, selenium and chromium, the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA, and other essential nutrients.

A perhaps more interesting study was mentioned in an article by Jane E. Brody in the New York Times, in which veterinarian researchers studied the decline of cognitive function in old dogs.4 With support from a pet food company, the National Institute on Aging, and the US military, these researchers found that a diet containing antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables, antioxidant vitamins C and E, antioxidant nutrients carnitine and alpha lipoic acid, and the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA, had a significant effect on improving the signs of brain aging in these elderly canines. As in the Ames study, the mechanism is believed to be improving the health of the cellular mitochondria.

Ames work is valuable because it provides further evidence of the importance of proper antioxidant nutrition and may give helpful insights into one good way of using two antioxidants . Copycat competitors use poor-quality compounds or whose dosages may not be clinically proven," they are ignoring the fact of biological individuality, proven half a century ago by scientist Roger Williams. The principle of biological individuality shows that the need for nutrients in individuals can and does vary widely. So any "clinically proven" dosage is, in reality, just a starting point for an individual to determine what her optimal dose will be, as in the Alpha-Lipoic Acid example previously mentioned.

As to "poor-quality compounds," we can't agree more that buyers need to purchase products from reputable companies. We also know about the great measures that our healthfood supplement manufacturers take to insure the quality of their products. The myth of "pharmaceutical" quality is just that, and the top level of healthfood supplement manufacturers (which LIFE EXTENSION VITAMINS sells) have long-ago instituted Good Manufacturing Practices that meet or exceed the highest standards.

Ames work is also important in that it further explicates the free radical theory of aging, which shows that the signs of aging are the result of harmful chemicals called free radicals that tend to build up inside mitochondria, the "power plants" of cells in the body. Powerful antioxidant nutrients, including LA and ALCAR, can prevent and reverse the deterioration of mitochondria, helping to prevent the decline of memory and bodily energy. Nutrition pioneers such as Patrick Mooney of SuperNutrition and Dr. Stephen Levine of NutriCology have helped many people utilize this theory with their products, starting over 20 years ago! If you're not already experiencing the well-known benefits of Alpha-Lipoic Acid and Acetyl-L-Carnitine, here's more reason to consider using them now.

References:

1 San Francisco Chronicle, Tuesday, February 19, 2002

2 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/99/4/1870

3 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/99/4/2356

4 The New York Times, Science section, February 5, 2002

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