reverse ageing

Could plasmalogens reverse ageing?

The thing about ageing is that by the time the diseases that incarcerate our aching souls are locked in, liberation demands a herculean salvage strategy. Prevention if we choose this course would be far more sanguine, but sadly few recognise its advantages. Would plasmalogens, which most of us have never heard of, make it any easier to uncoil from the biochemical quagmire that throttles our vital forces as we age?

Plasmalogens and you

Plasmalogens are essential components of cell membranes, the walls of your cells, but their contribution to your wellbeing is not merely structural. They also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities. As oxidation or the accumulation of free radicals and inflammation puts the immune system in overdrive, these processes are thought to accelerate ageing. So it might be worthwhile harnessing plasmalogens’ antioxidant and anti-inflammatory attributes to slow down and possibly even reverse those trends that make us age.

Your body actually manufactures plasmalogens, and this output peaks at around 30 to 40 years of age, but by the age of 70, your ability to churn out these crucial structures goes into decline. Either you simply don’t have the wherewithal to make them anymore, or they are rapidly broken down either by the build-up of inflammation or the accumulation of free radicals.

When we examine the diseases of ageing, inflammation and oxidation occupy centre stage when it comes to identifying the principal drivers of biochemical destruction. Alzheimer’s sufferers are besieged by overwhelming tides of inflammation and oxidation and, at the same time, endure a dramatic decline in their plasmalogen levels. The worse the disease, the greater the loss of plasmalogens.

Although the disappearance of plasmalogens is not as acute, Parkinson’s disease also witnesses a 30 per cent decrease in plasmalogen status. While the causes of Parkinson’s are complex, excessive exposure to herbicides and pesticides, toxins that are known to foment free radicals, is thought to be one of the major determinants of this debilitating disorder.

Plasmalogens and ageing

Research is starting to show that multiple sclerosis is also characterised by an attenuation of the presence of plasmalogens. Myelin, the protective covering that surrounds our nerves, is rich in plasmalogens, and as we lose this insulating sheath and plasmalogens are gobbled up the decimating effects of this disease progress. While it’s not exactly clear what triggers this decline, oxidation and an immune system that is overheated are thought to reside at the epicentre of this destruction.

Even heart disease, which is thought to be primarily caused by the aggregation of various forms of harmful cholesterol is in part propagated by a downswing in the presence of plasmalogens. It is in the heart muscle where plasmalogens have such a sizeable presence that their absence has a seismic effect. Research shows that those who suffer from blocked arteries and heart disease experience a significant drop in their plasmalogen status.

If the common denominator for all these diseases is the significant attenuation of the presence of plasmalogens, is there any evidence that renewing their impact leads to any improvements for those who are beset by these disorders? The studies have shown mixed results. In one study, plasmalogens derived from scallops yielded no benefits for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment. In another study it did lead to an improvement in cognition for a group of Alzheimer’s patients as well as those suffering from mild cognitive impairment and Parkinson’s disease. It has similarly benefited those with mild forgetfulness. In other trials, boosting plasmalogen levels has led to a reduction in cholesterol.

While these results are encouraging, it might be premature to advocate for plasmalogens as a prime-time intervention that we all should be adopting as an anti-aging strategy. Clearly, we need many more studies showing that it helps those with diseases, and if we are all going to boost our plasmalogen levels by taking supplements of this molecule, we need evidence that it’s going to provide us with ageing- and disease-preventing benefits.

Research scientists have suggested that as cerebral deterioration is partially attributed to the absence of plasmalogens we might need to find a way to transport these vital substances into our brains where they are needed the most. Delivery systems such as drug-encapsulated nanoparticles might need to be deployed to facilitate this. If we want plasmalogens to function as antioxidants, we might need to team them up with other antioxidants which would allow plasmalogens to protect our cell membranes while enhancing their capacity to neutralise free radicals that threaten the inside of our cells. Vitamins C and E and selenium might prove to be perfect partners, boosting their own portfolios while fortifying the powers of plasmalogens.

What we also need is better measuring tools. We need to determine if we really do need plasmalogens by quantifying their presence. Equally, if oxidation and inflammation are the two major forces outside ageing that drives them down, we need to be able to compute these and develop the technology to effectively neutralise them without any potential downside. All of these are a work in progress. It’s not magic, simply science, that is still in its infancy

Dr Michael Elstein

Dr Michael Elstein

Dr Michael Elstein is a Sydney-based anti-ageing physician and writer. He is the author of three books including his latest, The Wellness Guide to Preventing the Diseases of Ageing. He has also designed the app The Diet Guide to Ageing Prevention.

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