Secret of Longevity Could Be Found in Traditional Japanese Plant That Appears to Slow Aging

Scientists believe a Japanese plant used in traditional Asian medicine contains a compound which could slow aging.

The compound is found inside the angelica keiskei koidzumi plant, known in Japan as ashitaba. Grown largely in the center of the country and consumed in fresh or dried forms, it has traditionally been used as a remedy thought to treat heartburn, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure and cholesterol, hay fever, gout and constipation.

Researchers identified the flavonoid 4,4′-dimethoxychalcone (DMC), which they described as a "natural compound with anti-aging properties," in the plant.

In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers said slowing the degeneration process could be an important approach to tackling related diseases, as it is a risk factor for conditions including heart disease.

Currently, restricting calories while avoiding malnutrition is believed to affect aging, as well as taking pro-longevity drugs, the authors wrote. But avoiding eating can be tough for the average person, they noted.

In tests on human cells, the scientists found DMC appeared to slow senescence, the process where cells stop dividing and start growing permanently, which has been linked to cancer.

Tests in animals also showed promising results. When scientists fed worms and fruit flies the compound, it appeared to boost their lifespan by 20 percent. It also protected the hearts of mice when blood flow was blocked.

The team believes DMC could work by triggering autophagy, a recycling process in the cells where damaged cells are removed.

Last year, the researchers behind a separate study provided a new insight into the aging process by concluding that activities like running, swimming and cycling could slow it better than weightlifting.

The study, published in the European Heart Journal, investigated how different types of exercise affect telomeres, the compounds at the end of our chromosomes that protect our DNA. They are regarded as the clock of life: We age as they waste away.

The scientists found that high-intensity interval training and endurance training lengthened telomeres and boosted telomerase activity. However, resistance training didn't have the same affect.

Ioakim Spyridopoulos, a professor of cardiology and cardiovascular gerontology at Britain's Newcastle University, told Newsweek at the time, "The most surprising result is that aerobic exercise, but not resistance training, induced telomerase activity."

"This is despite the fact that resistance training leads to a similar increase in maximal oxygen uptake, suggesting a different, maybe advantageous, mechanism how aerobic exercise can delay the aging process, compared to resistance exercise," he said.

Angelica keiskei  Japanese Ashitaba getty stock
The ashitaba plant has been used in Japanese medicine to treat various ailments. Getty Images