I often write that in addition to monitoring the amount of nutrients you get from foods and dietary supplements, you also need to know how many of those nutrients make it into your cells…and what happens once they get there.
For instance, I’ve explained before how this process is a major issue when it comes to so-called “antioxidants.” Some of these compounds are inter-converted to oxidants and back to antioxidants depending on the environments they encounter in your stomach, intestines, blood, liver—and ultimately in the cells of your brain and every organ throughout your body.
Metabolites are an important aspect of this cellular nutrition process. Researchers are increasingly paying attention to these small molecules produced by the cells during metabolism. In fact, they’re finding that metabolites can provide valuable information on how diet, lifestyles, and diseases can contribute to aging.
Which leads me to an interesting new study.
Japanese researchers analyzed the blood of younger and older people and found 14 metabolites that may be related to specific aspects of the aging process.
Basically, this means we may finally know some cellular reasons for why we lose strength and become more susceptible to chronic health problems as the calendar pages turn.
Let’s take a closer look at this study.
Researchers discover the differences between young and old—at a cellular level
The researchers drew blood from 15 people ages 25 to 33, and 15 people ages 74 to 88.
The researchers focused on the participants’ red blood cells, which make up about half of blood volume. Red blood cells in mammals have no nuclei and limited metabolic activity of their own. They are essentially just packets of hemoglobin to bind and carry oxygen from the lungs to the tissues of the body. They also have an average lifespan of only about 120 days, so they provide a window to recent and current metabolic status in the body. (That’s one reason why red blood cells are used to measure blood alcohol levels in order to evaluate intoxication.)
The researchers used high-performance liquid chromatography to separate and analyze the metabolites in the red blood cells (a technology I helped develop from a NASA Astrobiology program in the 1970s).
As I noted above, the researchers found significant differences in 14 metabolites between the younger and older adults.
Specifically, half of the metabolites increased with age, and half decreased.
The decreased metabolites related to antioxidant and muscle activity, while the increased metabolites were biomarkers of reduced kidney and liver functions.
Help your cells age gracefully
So what can you do about these aging-related metabolites?
Well, the researchers simply said their findings demonstrate the importance of older adults consuming more antioxidants from foods and continuing to exercise their muscles.
This conclusion is consistent with the healthy aging advice I give you regularly. But based on other research I’ve reported, I would also add a few carefully selected supplements to your daily regimen as well.
Studies show older adults can almost always benefit from a high-quality B complex, 500 mg of vitamin C (divided into two daily doses), 100 mcg of selenium, and 200 IU of vitamin E.
Furthermore, older adults need to consume about twice the amount of meat and protein as currently recommended by clueless government dietary guidelines in order to maintain muscle mass—which helps to keep you strong and vibrant well into your “golden years.”
The tiny keys that can unlock all sorts of health mysteries
Like this new Japanese study, health research often focuses on metabolites. And these tiny molecules can tell you a great deal about what is going on in your body.
Any food, supplement, or drug is first absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and transported directly into your liver, where it’s sequestered in a special compartment of your blood. And it’s immediately metabolized by your liver before it’s ever released into the general circulation of the rest of your body.
This same process also happens with cancer-causing chemicals. These carcinogenic poisons or toxins are quickly metabolized by the liver, in an attempt to neutralize and get rid of them, before they are even seen by the rest of the body’s cells and tissues.
That’s why it’s important to understand the metabolites of carcinogens. Also, there are some biologically active substances such as nicotine (cotinine) and cocaine (benzoyl-ecgonine) that can only be detected by the presence and levels of their metabolites, since nicotine and cocaine are instantaneously metabolized in the body.
“Individual variability in human blood metabolites identifies age-related differences.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016; 113(16):4252-9