Gut bacteria-altering herbs and probiotics extend the lifespan of fruit flies by 60 percent

A team of researchers at McGill University has successfully developed a combination of herbal supplements and probiotics that can prolong the longevity of fruit flies by 60 percent and provide protection from age-related chronic diseases. The technique is one of the first to successfully show a treatment that modulates the gut microbiome can result in potent lifespan-extending effects.

Drosophila melanogaster, or the common fruit fly, is a species frequently used for modern anti-aging research as its extremely short lifespan allows scientists to quickly identify how physiological alterations can affect how long it lives. The fruit fly also contains a number of chromosomal and biochemical similarities to mammals making it a good simulacrum for human bodies.

Previous research has shown that not only is the gut microbiome important to an organism’s overall health, but it may also have a fundamental influence on its lifespan. This new study set out to examine whether a specifically designed therapeutic could modulate the make-up of a microbiome and extend an organism’s lifespan.

The treatment developed by the team contained three bioactive probiotics seen to be reduced in the gut microbiota of the elderly: Lactobacillus plantarumLactobacillus fermentum and Bifidobacteria longum. These were combined with a prebiotic herbal formulation called Triphala.

Triphala is an Ayurvedic herbal formation used for centuries in traditional Indian medicine. It’s made of dried components from the fruits of three plant species: Emblica officinalis, Terminalia bellirica and Terminalia chebula. Over the past two decades, several clinical studies have validated the ethnomedicinal claims of Triphala, finding it to positively modulate the growth of beneficial gut bacteria while inhibiting the growth of undesirable microbes.

The McGill study treated fruit flies with this novel supplement and found a lifespan extension of 26 days when compared to a control group. Fruit flies generally live around 40 days but the experimental group were seen to live up to 66 days. Several other beneficial biomarkers were also identified in the experimental group, including reductions in markers of physiological stress, oxidative stress, and inflammation.

“At the onset of this study, we were hopeful that combining Triphala with probiotics would be at least a little better than their individual components in terms of physiological benefit, but we did not imagine how successful this formulation would be,” says Susan Westfall, lead author on the study.

Prior research by the same team explored the effects of this particular formulation on a simulated model of the human gastrointestinal tract and found it does successfully support the growth of beneficial bacteria. This suggests it could have positive effects when administered in human subjects. Interestingly, this previous study also found that each component on its own, the probiotics or the Triphala, did not display the same degree of beneficial effects on the microbiome as when they were administered in combination.

The treatment is yet to be demonstrated as effective in human subjects and the study’s authors suggest that realistically, the results will not be as significant in humans as fruit flies. So, it isn’t likely that this singular treatment would result in such a dramatic life extension in humans, but it certainly shows that targeted combinations of probiotics and prebiotics could play a major role in future human health treatments.

“The effects in humans would likely not be as dramatic, but our results definitely suggest that a diet specifically incorporating Triphala along with these probiotics will promote a long and healthy life,” says Satya Prakash, senior author on the study.

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