Immunity-Boosting Compound May Help Slow Aging, Prevent Cancer

Urolithin A may improve mitochondrial function, leading to lower inflammation levels and boosted immune function

Aging is inevitable, but some of the maladies we face may one day be mitigated, thanks to advancing knowledge about exactly what causes our bodies to decline with time.

The landmark 2013 Hallmarks of Aging study identified nine factors that contribute to health decline in advanced age: genomic instability, telomere attrition, epigenetic alterations, loss of proteostasis, deregulated nutrient-sensing, mitochondrial dysfunction, cellular senescence, stem cell exhaustion, and altered intercellular communication.

The study was updated in 2022 to include five additional factors. One of these is inflammation.

Chronic, low-grade inflammation has been called “inflammaging” because it’s a significant risk factor for disease and death in the elderly. In fact, human aging is characterized by chronic, low-grade inflammation, and most—if not all—age-related diseases arise from an inflammatory process, according to gerontologists.

At the body’s cellular level, damaged mitochondria are thought to contribute to inflammation and aging.

“As we age, our mitochondrial health declines, and as a consequence, energy levels decline,” immunologist Dr. Anurag Singh told The Epoch Times.

“This is mainly because rates of cellular processes such as mitophagy slow down and we accumulate more faulty mitochondria in our cells.”

What Is Mitophagy?

Mitophagy is “a cellular renewal process that recycles poorly functioning mitochondria into building blocks of newer healthier mitochondria,” Singh said.

Can we induce and harness mitophagy to ameliorate disease? This is a newer field of research that holds promise.

The 2020 review article “Mitophagy: An Emerging Role in Aging and Age-Associated Diseases,” by a group of French, Chinese, and Swedish researchers, found that “impaired mitophagy and dysfunctional mitophagic mechanisms were associated with numerous physiological and pathological processes.”

These included “development, differentiation, aging, neurodegenerative disorders, cardiovascular pathologies, and cancer.”

Renewing Mitochondria

We now know that many foods long considered to be “healthy” are beneficial thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties. The metabolite urolithin A, a compound found in berries, walnuts, and pomegranates, seems to have anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting properties due to its effects on mitochondria.

“The most studied health benefits of urolithin A are on improving mitochondrial health,” Singh said.

Singh and co-authors of the study “Impact of the Natural Compound Urolithin A on Health, Disease, and Aging” noted that urolithin A protects against aging and age-related conditions affecting muscle, joints, the brain, and other organs by inducing mitophagy.

Singh is also chief medical officer of Amazentis, a company that makes a urolithin A supplement.

Although urolithin A was discovered more than 40 years ago, research into the benefits of supplementing the human diet with urolithin A is relatively new.

Recent advances in urolithin A research suggest that it “attenuates inflammation in various tissues, including the brain, adipose, heart, and liver tissues,” according to researchers at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

This attenuation leads to the “potential delay or prevention of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, Type 2 diabetes mellitus, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease,” they wrote.

“Urolithin A is the only clinically studied natural molecule shown to activate mitophagy that has shown to be safe across multiple randomized clinical trials and that when orally administered improves mitochondrial health,” Singh said, citing a study by Swiss researchers that showed improved mitochondrial and cellular health following regular oral administration in a group of sedentary elderly subjects.

The only other interventions known to activate mitophagy are regular exercise and calorie restriction, he said.

A Treatment for Cancer?

Mitophagy induced by urolithin A changes T cells’ genetic program, making them better able to fight tumors, according to Dr. Joseph Mercola.

A German study published in 2022 showed that urolithin A improved the function of immune cells and called the molecule a promising treatment for colorectal cancer.

“After treatment with urolithin A, tumour-fighting immune cells become T memory stem cells, which, due to their ability to divide, constantly supply the immune system with rejuvenated, non-exhausted T cells,” the researchers reported.

The Gut Connection

Not everyone naturally produces urolithin A. The ability to do so requires a specific type of microbiome composition in the gut and depends on age, health, and diet.

Only approximately 40 percent of the human population has this specific gut microbiome composition, researchers found in a research review published in Trends in Molecular Medicine in 2021.

“Direct supplementation with urolithin A overcomes limitations of dietary exposure and gut microbiome variability in healthy adults to achieve consistent levels across the population,” Singh and his colleagues wrote in a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“One way people can focus on the key pillars of good health is eating a balanced diet rich in fiber, fruits, and nuts rich in the dietary precursors that lead to urolithin A production,” Singh told The Epoch Times.

Although research into the benefits of urolithin A is relatively new, it looks as though the compound holds great promise as an anti-inflammatory agent and a possible cancer treatment. Berries, nuts, pomegranates, and other inflammation-fighting foods may boost the body’s functioning from the cellular level.

Susan C. Olmstead writes about health and medicine, food, social issues, and culture. Her work has appeared in The Epoch Times, Children's Health Defense, Salvo Magazine, and many other publications.
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