Japanese “Anti-aging” Plant: Hyped Hoax or Fountain of Youth?

Do you want to live to be 100-years-old? To reach your goal, you’d probably need to locate the fabled fountain of youth, the average life span in America is only 78 years old. But there’s hope on the horizon, Austrian researchers believe they may have found it in the form of a Japanese leafy green herb.

But, is this discovery just another hyped hoax or the real deal?

The recent study was published in Nature Communications. Its authors stated that a tremendous amount of scientific developments have helped to boost life expectancy. However, they maintained that not much has been accomplished to increase health spans, or the time-period in your life when age-associated health problems aren’t a factor.

The Austrian researchers offered a compound contained in angelica keiskei koidzumi, referred to colloquially as ashitaba, as a possible solution to this conundrum.

Ashitaba is packed with a plethora of nutrients. One of them is the flavonoid known as 4,4′-dimethoxychalcone, DMC. A flavonoid is a plant-derived disease-fighting nutrient. The University of Graz in Austria researchers, and others, have labeled DMC a “natural compound with anti-aging properties.” Its regaled for its ability to slow cell degeneration, or cell aging. This dreaded degeneration process can cause health problems such as cancer and heart disease.

The study revealed DMC increased the lifespan of fruit flies and worms by a whopping 20 percent. In mice, it seemed to safeguard hearts in the midst of a blood flow blockage. When tested on human cells, DMC reportedly reduced senescence. This is the process that leads cells to stop dividing and begin growing permanently. Senescence is an important turning point in your aging process. Once it commences, your body enters into the permanent aging process.

The study’s authors contended DMC attacks the course of aging by introducing autophagy. During this process, your body recycles damaged cells and eradicates them in favor of newer, healthier ones. If DMC was able to trigger autophagy and slow cell degeneration in individuals, ashitaba’s anti-aging characteristics may cause people to live longer with less chronic health problems according to the researchers.

While the study appears promising, experts caution research on ashitaba is in the very early stages. Sharon Zarabi, RD, CDN, CPT, program director of bariatric surgery at Lenox Hospital in New York City, warned, “The science claims from this study are very limited, and results are based on mice and isolated in one form. There is scarce evidence that ashitaba actually works.”

Despite Zarabi’s skepticism, a few studies suggest this herb might possess some advantageous properties in addition to anti-aging.

Research conducted on rats revealed that an extract of ashitaba might help decrease LDL (bad cholesterol), triglycerides, and total cholesterol. Another study showed that animals which consumed the herb made less stomach acid. So, if your dinner of pizza and pasta leads to some serious heartburn, ashitaba might help treat it.

These studies, and many more like them, didn’t incorporate effects on humans, merely lab studies of human cells. Ginger Hultin, a registered dietitian based in Seattle and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, remarked to Healthline about the difficulty of translating these kinds of studies to meaningful effects for humans.

She stated, “There are so many great antioxidant flavonoids in all plant foods, and [DMC] is one of many. 4,4′-dimethoxychalcone exists in ashitaba, but this study was done on organisms ranging from yeast to mice. It’s so hard to know how it works in humans.”

If you’re thinking of stocking up on ashitaba any time soon, you should know that a proper dosage for this possible fountain of youth doesn’t exist. Hultin stated, “Studies are actually currently lacking sufficient evidence to list potential reactions, herb/supplement or drug interactions, or proper dosage, so that’s always a red flag for me. Many herbals do have some interactions with medical conditions or medications, so I’d use caution before starting something like this and definitely speak to your physician about it.”

Ashitaba is available as a dietary supplement or with herbal compounds. Hutlin advised, “Make sure that you’re getting a quality product by looking for third-party testing on the label to ensure safety.”

You can also consume the leaves of this herb fresh. You can incorporate them into your favorite dishes or juice them. Not found in your typical grocery store, you’ll likely need to purchase fresh ashitaba from a specialty store. Hutlin added, “There are some wonderful nutrients in ashitaba, but you get these same kinds of nutrients from all the plant foods we eat in the diet. There’s not just one ‘fountain of youth’ plant. It really comes down to how you treat your body daily over a long period of time.”


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