Lithium is a mood stabilizer used for patients suffering from bipolar disorder; however, a new animal study shows that the drug could also be the new hope against aging.
Researchers studied the effects of low-dose lithium on fruit flies and found that the drug can extend the flies' lifespan compared to those that did not receive lithium.
Scientists from the University College London said lithium blocks the glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3) as it activates the NRF-2 molecule, which prevents cell damage. The effect of the drug is the same, regardless of the flies' genetic makeup.
"We studied the responses of thousands of flies in different conditions to monitor the effects of lithium and how it extends life," said Dr. Ivana Bjedov, UCL Cancer Institute researcher.
Scientists gave 160 adult flies low doses of lithium chloride in early adulthood and also during late adulthood. Flies given low doses extended their lifespan by 16 percent to as much as 18 percent. It should also be noted that flies given higher doses of lithium died.
Bjedov further said that low doses of lithium, aside from prolonging cell life, also caused stress reduction and fat production blockage in flies with a high sugar diet.
"Low doses also protect against the harmful effects of higher, toxic doses of lithium ad other substances such as the pesticide paraquat," Bjedov added.
GSK-3 is also present in humans and plays a role in Alzheimer's disease and diabetes.
Could It Be A Fountain Of Youth For Humans?
If the same effect is found in human cells, low-dose lithium is believed to add at least 13 years.
Dame Linda Partridge, a UCL professor said that the study is aimed at finding ways to slow down the aging process so humans can live a healthy life for longer. They want to target GSK-3 in their further studies that would include more complex animals before conducting a clinical trial.
"To improve our quality and length of life, we must delay the onset of age-related diseases by extending the healthiest period of our lives," said lead researcher Dr. Jorge Ivan Castillo-Quan.
Claire Bale of Parkinson's UK who helped in funding the study expressed hope that researchers may soon intervene in the process of aging and help in building a healthier generation by preventing age-related diseases such as Parkinson's.
The study was published in the journal Cell.
Photo: Dustin Iskandar | Flickr