A food supplement made from crab shells could hold the key to a long life, according to scientists.Tests on mice found glucosamine extended lifespan by almost 10 per cent – equivalent to an extra eight years in human terms.
It is thought the sugar-like supplement, which has long been used to keep joints healthy and ease the pain of arthritis, extends life by altering the metabolism.
The Swiss researchers said they could not be certain it would work in humans.
But scientist Michael Ristow, who has started taking glucosamine himself, claimed: ‘The chances are good.’ Dr Ristow, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, is one of many scientists around the world hunting for an anti-ageing pill or potion. The challenges include finding one which is safe and that promises a healthy, as well as longer, old age.
Dr Ristow first showed that giving worms glucosamine extended lifespan by 5 per cent. He then gave the supplement to ageing mice in addition to their usual diet. These animals lived 10 per cent longer than a second group which ate normally, the journal Nature Communications reported.
The supplement, which can be bought in health food shops – in the form of a powder or more expensive capsules – also appeared to ward off diabetes. It is thought it lengthens life by switching the body’s energy supply from sugary carbohydrates to fat and protein.
Low-carbohydrate diets are known to have benefits to health including lowering weight, blood pressure and harmful blood fats. In two large-scale human studies, people who took glucosamine lived longer than others – but Dr Ristow said more research is needed to prove its effectiveness.
He added: ‘This may be considered a valid option, and yes, I have started taking glucosamine myself. ‘There is no definite proof of the effectiveness of glucosamine in humans.
‘But the chances are good – and since unlike most other potentially lifespan-extending drugs there are no known relevant side-effects of glucosamine supplementation, I would tend to recommend this supplement.’
Dr Ristow advised people should take a daily tablespoon of glucosamine powder, mixed in water, or alternatively, 3g to 5g a day in capsule form. Diabetics should speak to their doctor first, and people with shellfish allergies, or those on the blood-thinning drug warfarin, should be cautious.
Professor Tim Spector, of King’s College London, agreed that glucosamine is safe. He said: ‘If an even modest effect on ageing were proven it would be a major advance.
‘However, humans are not the same as worms or rodents and studies will need careful replication before we get over-excited.’