Juvenon Health Journal volume 7 number 5 may 2008
By Benjamin V. Treadwell, Ph.D.
Ever wonder why your energy level can vary from day to day? And why the frequency of high-energy episodes appears to decrease as we age? Are the reasons biological or psychological?Although research does suggest that a healthy, balanced mental state can have a significant effect on our physical health, and vice-versa, we may need to go a little deeper. The variations seem to be related to biochemical reactions that occur at the cellular level.
Consider our nervous system as an example, specifically, an active center in the brain, the hippocampus, which is involved in processing memory. Its cells, neurons, and associated helper cells need to convert the equivalent of up to a pound of sugar per day to the chemical form of energy, ATP. It takes this tremendous amount of energy to maintain the cellular machinery required to process and consolidate (make sense of) the events of the day.
Interference with this process may impact long-term memory and the consequences can affect our overall cognitive abilities as we age. Our mental acuity and awareness may not be as sharp as when we were younger. This can produce an inability to focus and a generally frustrated state of mind.
Lower energy can also affect our aging muscular-skeletal system. In other words, you may feel mentally perky enough to plant the garden, play ball with your grandkids or mow the lawn, but you don’t have the energy to physically execute the task.
As we age, most of us experience a decline in both mental and physical energy.Mounting scientific evidence connects this development with a key cellular structure, the mitochondrion. This cellular “battery” produces virtually all the energy on which our bodies operate.
Each cell has between 200 and 2000 mitochondria, precisely angled and capable of moving to any area of the cell that requires a supply of ATP. However, with age, the mitochondria seem to become less efficient at producing energy. Why?
Careful microscopic and biochemical analysis of “old” mitochondria (isolated from old cells) reveals deterioration of the once vibrant, shapely, membranous, energy-producing structures. Similar to what happens to our bodies on the outside, the mitochondria, at the cellular level, become wrinkled with broken and lacerated membranes, losing their youthful resilience.
This unfortunate, age-associated decline in mitochondrial structure is directly related to their very function, converting food to energy. The process produces the majority of substances known as free radicals, which escape the cellular defense and react with the surrounding mitochondrial membranes and DNA. Cellular damage accumulates over time, eventually destroying the mitochondria, leaving them withered and distorted.
Can this decline in mitochondrial health be moderated? An article in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine (See this month’s “Research Update.”) presents an interesting possibility. The authors report that the age-associated deterioration of the mitochondria seemed to be significantly attenuated in old animals that were fed two micronutrients, acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) and alpha lipoic acid (ALA).
After giving the subjects an After giving the subjects an acetyl-L-carnitine ALCAR-enriched diet for 12 weeks, investigators analyzed hippocampus tissue samples excised from this group as well as from a control group not on the enriched diet. The hippocampus region of the brain, as mentioned earlier, is involved in memory and behavior.
As expected, the neurons from old rats in the control group contained wrinkled, deteriorated mitochondria as compared to their younger control group counterparts. The mitochondria from the old test subjects, however, seemed more “youthful” – less wrinkled and more active in energy production. Surprisingly, younger animals on the enriched diet also showed improvement in mitochondrial health.
Previous work has demonstrated the importance of lipoic acid and ALCAR in the conversion of food to energy in the mitochondria. (See these Juvenon Health Journal articles: Alpha Lipoic Acid: Less Cellular Stress, More Energy and Acetyl-L-Carnitine: The Lesser Known Cousin.) Additional evidence indicates that, due to dietary gaps, our cells may not be obtaining enough of these nutrients.
As a consequence, and as they age, the mitochondria seem to be losing key structural components, becoming more inefficient in producing energy. Furthermore, the deteriorating mitochondria allow the release of a higher level of cell-destructive free radicals, which accelerates the breakdown.
Can acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) and alpha lipoic acid (LA) help break this cycle and keep the mitochondria’s energy-producing machinery running optimally? According to animal studies, to date, it appears that the answer may be “yes.” More research is needed to fully explain the why, how and how much.
Mounting evidence supports mitochondria’s role as key cellular elements and suggests their age-associated deterioration may be at least one cause for some loss of memory, especially in the elderly. Recently, a team of investigators addressed the effectiveness of two cellular metabolites in attenuating age-associated declines in mitochondrial structure and brain neuron function.
The research is reported in the postprint “Neuronal mitochondrial amelioration by feeding acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) and lipoic acid (LA) to aged rats,” to be published in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. Experiments were conducted at the University of Texas at San Antonio, California’s Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, the University of California Berkeley, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH and Azerbaijan University.
In the studies, four-month-old (young) and 21-month-old (aged) rats were fed the ALCAR in drinking water and the LA in chow. Analysis of the subjects’ hippocampi, using electron microscopy techniques, revealed an increase in the number of intact mitochondria for both groups. The aged rats also showed a significant reduction in severely damaged mitochondria.
The work suggests a need for sufficient quantities of the two cellular metabolites to stabilize the structure and function of the mitochondria of cells in the hippocampus of the brain and associated vascular endothelial cells. This and other studies mentioned in the work also imply that, as it ages, an animal’s requirements for these metabolites may not be satisfied by diet alone.
This Research Update column highlights articles related to recent scientific inquiry into the process of human aging. It is not intended to promote any specific ingredient, regimen, or use and should not be construed as evidence of the safety, effectiveness, or intended uses of the Juvenon product. The Juvenon label should be consulted for intended uses and appropriate directions for use of the product.
Dr. Treadwell answers your questions about Juvenon™ Cellular Health Supplement
QUESTION: I’ve been listening to a doctor on talk radio and he seems to agree with recent studies, showing that certain vitamins have no health benefits and may even be harmful. He mentioned selenium in large doses causing diabetes and women developing colon cancer from too much folic acid. My own physician also thinks vitamins are a waste.
I believe most micronutrients are derived from foods we consume but, if our diet is lacking certain vitamins, I see no harm in assisting our bodies with supplements. I’ve been taking a multi-vitamin, fish oil, and 100 mg of CoQ10 as my statin drug tends to deplete the body of this antioxidant, or so I read. Your thoughts? –P.
ANSWER: I think the compounds you are currently taking are healthy. (The omega 3s in the fish oil are particularly good for your health, and I think about 3-4 capsules per day is a reasonable amount.) I am aware of the recent flurry of reports stating that vitamins can be harmful, but most of these studies have major flaws in the research protocol. For every negative report, there are hundreds of positive reports.
Although I agree that following a nutritious diet (plenty of vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fruit) and exercising should keep us healthy, there is a caveat. This approach may only work for younger people. It is a well-known fact that, as we age, we don’t absorb the micronutrients from our food as effectively. So, offsetting this potential deficiency with supplements makes sense. For example, lipoic acid and ALCAR help convert food to energy in the mitochondrial cells, and you’ll find both nutrients in Juvenon Energy Formula.
The best way to fine-tune your dose is to start with one tablet per day and, after a two-week period, increase the dose to two per day. After another three weeks, you may want to try three Juvenon per day to see if there is an additional boost in energy level.
Benjamin V. Treadwell, Ph.D., is a former Harvard Medical School associate professor and member of Juvenon’s Scientific Advisory Board.