Sex, Chemicals and Longevity

A substance released during intercourse can extend the lifespan of an organism:
Aged Couple Enjoying Sex
Intimate bedroom moments have given researchers new clues about combating ageing. A team of European researchers, led by a biologist in Austria, has found that a substance released in copious amounts during sexual intercourse can actually extend the lifespan of a range of organisms — from flies to worms and even mammals.

Spermidine, an important constituent of seminal fluid which helps neutralise the acidic pH of the vagina — the first step in the sperm’s journey towards fertilising an egg — is known to be necessary for cell growth and maturation. Scientists have previously found that when ageing sets in, its concentration dips in living cells. However, it was unclear if its decrease was the cause or consequence of ageing.

But in an interesting study reported online in the journal Nature Cell Biology, scientists led by Frank Madeo of the Institute of Molecular Biosciences, University of Graz, Austria, have shown that the levels of spermidine can be propped up in cells through the oral route. Experimenting with laboratory mice, the scientists found that an additional dose of spermidine rejuvenated the cells, as a result of which the animals lived longer.

“Our studies have shown that spermidine-treated fruit flies and worms can live up to 30 per cent longer than their average lifespan,” Madeo told KnowHow.

Madeo thinks the study is important for a variety of reasons. First, spermidine is an intrinsically natural compound abundantly found in every type of cell or eukaryotic organism and hence part of normal human nutrition. It is found in abundant quantities in soybeans as well as grapefruit, a subtropical citrus fruit known for its bitter taste.

“Intriguingly, spermidine is (released)… in huge concentrations during sexual intercourse. This means that it is already approved by nature,” says Madeo. The second fascinating thing, according to him, is the way it does cellular “clean up”. Spermidine is capable of inducing a process called “autophagy” by which a cell itself destroys its own degraded components. Scientists have known for long that autophagy plays a critical role in halting the progression of cancers and certain neurodegenerative disorders.

A similar study about three months ago by a team of French scientists found that melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone, when supplied externally, could delay the onset of ageing.

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“It is too early to speculate if and to which extent these two substances (melatonin and spermidine) might interfere with ageing through similar mechanisms. It is worthwhile, however, to note that both the studies addressed the effect of a single compound that is naturally produced in the human body,” says Madeo.

Altering the concentrations of these compounds through external supply seems to be efficient in retarding the signs of ageing, he adds.

The advantage, particularly in the case of spermidine, says Madeo, is that its application is easy. Madeo and his team received positive results when they used spermidine simply as a nutritional supplement to food or drinking water in their experiments.

The scientists are also hopeful that spermidine will help them formulate therapies for several neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease which are normally associated with longevity.

In fact, Madeo along with his associate Tobias Eisenberg is currently engaged in a series of experiments on mice to see whether spermidine could be effective against such neurodegenerative diseases.

Milind Gajnan Watve, professor of biology at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune, feels the work is interesting. It indicates that the biology of ageing is very similar in a range of organisms, from simple single-cell creatures to humans. “The study is promising, but has a long way to go,” he adds.

Source:The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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