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Animal study: cranberries are an anti-aging drug

Biologists at Clemson University in the US have discovered that an extract of cranberry has unusually strong life-extending properties. Cranberry is capable of almost doubling the lifespan of the microscopic worm Caenorhabditis elegans.

Life extension by cranberries
Caenorhabditis elegans [see photo below] is a favourite subject for scientists who are looking for substances that have life-extending properties. One of the main reasons is that the tiny animal only lives for a couple of days, so experiments don't last too long.

Researchers have recently started examining the life-extending effects of natural extracts from a number of plants including blueberry, turmeric and Gingko biloba. Because cranberries also contain interesting compounds the Americans decided to expose Caenorhabditis elegans to extracts of Vaccinium macrocarpon [the botanical name for cranberry].

Animal study: cranberries are an anti-aging drug

Some of the worms were given cranberry extract the minute they hatched [Early Start Intervention]; others were only given cranberry extract at a later stage [Late Start Intervention].

In both groups some of the worms were given the cranberry extract for the rest of their life, others were given the extract until they reached middle age [Middle Age]. Others were only given the extract until they reached adulthood [Young Adult].

The figure below shows how the experiment was set up.

Animal study: cranberries are an anti-aging drug

Worms given cranberry extract lived longer. The earlier supplementation started and the longer it lasted, the stronger the life-extending effect of the extract.

Animal study: cranberries are an anti-aging drug

Animal study: cranberries are an anti-aging drug

Animal study: cranberries are an anti-aging drug
The worms that received life-long supplementation lived a massive 80.8 percent longer. That's an impressive result for this kind of study.

The figure on the right reveals how cranberry probably extends life expectancy in Caenorhabditis elegans. It boosts the production of heat shock proteins. These are the molecular equivalent of styrofoam. When a cell gets into difficulties, heat shock proteins envelop the vulnerable molecular structures to prevent them from being damaged.

In another experiment the researchers exposed the worms to a bacteria that causes cholera, Vibrio cholera [see photo below]. The survival chances of the worms that had been given cranberry extracts from very early in life were several tens of percent higher.

"Considering that cranberry extract-mediated prolongevity and stress responses require evolutionarily conserved mechanisms among diverse species ranging from Caenorhabditis elegans to mammals, our findings have imperative implications for the application of cranberry extract in improving healthspan in higher order organisms, including humans", the researchers conclude.

"Noticeably, however, if the similar results would occur in humans still remains unknown."

Nutrients. 2014 Feb 21;6(2):911-21.

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