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The new supplement in town: Reverse the Clock with Alpha-ketoglutarate


ageing well

Rod Long, Unsplash

When it comes to anti-ageing supplements — I know I’ve said this before so I hope that those who are reading this article have forgotten to take their gingko memory pills — I embrace a schizoid view of the universe. Part of me is a sucker for the promise of every new rejuvenating elixir that hits the market while the more realistic, objective science-craving faction eagerly seeks out every bit of evidence. This clearly demonstrates that the marketing and the hype far outweigh any justification for investing in my longevity, as the con artists crudely suggest I should, and then I fork out the money anyway. I’m embarrassed to admit that I religiously ingest upwards of at least 20 supplements daily while the scientific mavens stare at me quizzically wondering what on earth I’m stuffing down my gullet while they enjoy their morning muffin and coffee with two sugars.

And there it is, proud as the light of day. Alpha-ketoglutarate is locked and loaded just waiting to supercharge your energy, eliminate your “zombie cells” and restore your inalienable right to go on proliferating indefinitely.

The scientific experts who judged me so harshly just happened to be the world’s premier research geeks who were all present at the Australian Biology of Ageing Conference held in Sydney towards the latter end of 2019. The important thing was that these were scientists, not salesman out to make a cheap buck by selectively endorsing a host of products while ignoring the evidence suggesting that there was no legitimate reason for taking them in the first place. Which is what brings me to alpha-ketoglutarate.

Wunderkind?

Alpha-ketoglutarate is a substance which is an intermediary in our energy cycle, which implies that having more of it might generate more vigour and vitality. It’s already found in sports drinks, indicating that this possibility hasn’t eluded the smarts of the supplement manufacturers.

Studies on humans do show that alpha-ketoglutarate can improve muscle strength, exercise capacity and peak performance.

Having delivered a masterful exposition on the causes of ageing and the drugs we could utilise to abrogate these life-choking events which unfortunately are littered with a host of unappealing side effects, one of the event’s keynote speakers and a celebrated world authority then segued neatly into a segment demonstrating how alpha-ketoglutarate, a natural substance unencumbered by the toxic baggage assailing the medications, could be harnessed to defeat ageing. Acknowledging his pecuniary involvement with a company that was about to launch a product containing alpha-ketoglutarate, he then deftly explained how this wonderful nutrient could rekindle the mojo of ageing mice by reversing their rectal and penile prolapse, regrowing their fading whiskers and seeding the kind of fur that would make a nubile, adolescent mouse envious. To clinch the deal for any yeast desperate to double their lifespan and live a few more homo sapiens benefitting hours in a test tube, he confirmed that alpha-ketoglutarate was their man.

Eager to secure a head start on the legions of mice and yeast that I was sure would be clamouring to avail themselves of this magical potion, I immediately approached the esteemed professor after his talk to enquire how I could get hold of his company’s product. In a rather unconvincing “Aw shucks I’m actually a scientist and I didn’t mean to do a sales job number on you” fashion he proceeded to inform me that he wasn’t sure I’d be able to import this supplement into Australia yet. This was a strategy which I knew was designed to make me even more determined to purchase it, even if I needed to employ the services of eBay. He then proceeded to direct me to the company’s website.

Eager to secure a head start on the legions of mice and yeast that I was sure would be clamouring to avail themselves of this magical potion, I immediately approached the esteemed professor after his talk to enquire how I could get hold of his company’s product.

And there it is, proud as the light of day. Alpha-ketoglutarate is locked and loaded just waiting to supercharge your energy, eliminate your “zombie cells” and restore your inalienable right to go on proliferating indefinitely. It’s the closest you’ll come to acquiring a passport to immortality. So, is all of this true? Here is the honest-to-goodness science separated from the hype and the potential harms.

The benefits of alpha-ketoglutarate

Certainly it can extend the lifespan of fruit flies, whose genetic make-up is remarkably similar to ours. It does this by switching on antioxidant defences, ramping up a process known as autophagy which rids your body of metabolic garbage and damaged cells and upregulating cancer-suppressing genes. Studies on humans do show that alpha-ketoglutarate can improve muscle strength, exercise capacity and peak performance. However, this is at a rather extravagant dose of 12g daily. There is some evidence that it can assist with post-operative recovery, especially after heart surgery. It might also help to build stronger bones in postmenopausal women.

The downside

Rather than stimulate autophagy, contrasting research reveals that it inhibits this process with some test-tube evidence highlighting the fact that too much alpha-ketoglutarate can actually damage DNA, causing cells to die. While there are trials on athletes suggesting benefits, others do not, with reports of adverse effects including palpitations, headaches and even fainting, although it has been difficult to directly attribute these events to this supplement. When it comes to rating the documented advantages of taking alpha-ketoglutarate, one comprehensive review indicated that there was insufficient evidence to recommend this product for the promotion of muscle-building or performance.

While this might be a diversion from my standard practice at least for the time being, alpha-ketoglutarate is one supplement that won’t be augmenting my split personality.



 

Michael Elstein

Michael Elstein is a Fellow of the Australian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine. Anti-ageing medicine is his current passion and he is the author of Eternal Health and You Have The Power, which are available as e-books through his website.

Dr Elstein has just attained a Masters in Nutrition from RMIT university located in Melbourne. He treats those who suffer from fatigue, insomnia, weight gain, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders and menopausal dysfunction. He utilises diet, nutritional therapy, hormonal interventions and herbal remedies.