What is Fisetin? Product Found in Fruits and Vegetables May Slow Aging, Researchers Show

A byproduct that occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables might help people live healthier and longer.

Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute and the Mayo Clinic studied if fisetin, which is a coloring agent, might extend lives. Published in EBioMedicine on September 29, the study showed that it might extend lives by roughly 10 percent.

"We're looking for drugs that can kill these damaged senescent cells that are very toxic to our bodies and accumulate as we get older," Laura Niedernhofer, director of the Institute on the Biology of Aging and Metabolism at the University of Minnesota and senior author on the paper, told Newsweek. "It turns out that fisetin is a natural product that actually we were able to show very selectively and effectively kills these senescent cells, or at least dials back their bad secretions or inflammatory proteins."

Cells go through cellular senescence when they reach a certain level of damage as a person ages. When a person is young, their immune system is able to clear those senescent cells, but the older a person is, the harder it is for their body to clear those cells effectively. As the cells accumulate, they can cause inflammation and release enzymes that can degrade tissue. Fisetin is a senolytic, which is a type of drug that could eliminate the senescent cells. To test if fisetin would get rid of those damaged cells, the researchers gave fisetin to aging mice.

"The mice reached an extension of life span and health span of over 10 percent, that's pretty remarkable," Paul Robbins, another senior author on the paper and the associate director of the Institute on the Biology of Aging and Metabolism at the University of Minnesota, told Newsweek. Health span is the period of someone's life that they're healthy and living, not just living. "At the dose we used, the question is if we could give them a lower dose or more infrequently. That's a theoretical advantage of using these types of drugs that can clear the damaged cells—you can use them intermittently."

Fruits and Vegetables
A customers looks at fruits and vegetable for sale in London. Fisetin is naturally found in fruits and vegetables, but it’s unlikely enough is present to slow aging. JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The team also tested fisetin on human fat tissue in the laboratory, to see how the drug would interact with human cells, and not just mice cells. Since they were able to reduce senescent cells in the human fat tissue, the scientists think it's likely fisetin will work in humans. However, the amount of fisetin in fruits and vegetables isn't enough to have these benefits—scientists still need to work out the best dosage.

A paper published in Nature Medicine in June found that fisetin can improve physical function in old age, and an August paper in Aging Cell found that senescent cells could be linked with Alzheimer's. Fisetin is currently undergoing clinical trials at the Mayo Clinic, so it could be available to humans to treat senescent cells in the next couple of years.