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Medicine Science

Reducing One Amino Acid Could Increase Lifespan 286

Posted by timothy
from the for-compulsive-food-sorters dept.
John Bryson writes "Eating less of one amino acid might lengthen your life. There have been lots of previous studies showing that many species live long on highly restricted calories, but a lot of this benefit may be possible by only restricting one amino acid. Amino acids that have shown this have been tryptophan and methionine. A recent study, published online December 2 in Nature, a highly respected journal, may help explain some of the health benefits of restricted-calorie diets."
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Reducing One Amino Acid Could Increase Lifespan

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  • Yes, but... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mano.m (1587187)
    how do you screen for one amino acid that may keep popping up in a hundred different foodstuff in various amounts? Unless you took a daily dose of something to chelate out that one a.a. from the body. Hmm....
    • Re:Yes, but... (Score:5, Informative)

      by John Whitley (6067) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @04:24AM (#30341872) Homepage

      TFA directly addresses that point:

      Piper and his colleagues don’t know what the correct amino acid balance might be for humans, and he says it would be a nearly impossible feat to adjust people’s diets to get just the right mix. Instead, the team is investigating how tweaking amino acid content in the diet affects cells. If the researchers can identify pathways affected by amino acid imbalances, they might be able to design drugs or other therapies that could give the benefits of caloric restriction without cutting calories.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by conureman (748753)

        When I read that last paragraph, it seemed that they were saying that, rather than try to find the correct sort of diet, they were going to direct the research toward a drug therapy. Something a little easier to monetize, perhaps?

      • Re:Yes, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Sunday December 06, 2009 @09:33AM (#30342800) Homepage Journal

        they might be able to design drugs or other therapies that could give the benefits of caloric restriction without cutting calories.

        I want you to think about how expensive a drug to extend life would end up being. You think world and economic leaders want to see the lifespan of all humans suddenly extended? Regardless of the research and input costs involved in developing a longevity drug, I believe it would probably end up only available to, let's say, a certain "class" of people. I mean, we wouldn't want "those people" to have longer lives, which means they become more numerous, am I right?

        Even a sudden jump of 10 years to human lifespan would cause some social disruption. 20 years or more and the ground starts to shift under our social institutions.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by CRCulver (715279)

          I want you to think about how expensive a drug to extend life would end up being. You think world and economic leaders want to see the lifespan of all humans suddenly extended?

          Recently I went back and reread Kim Stanley Robinson's trilogy beginning with Red Mars [amazon.com] . One of the plot points is how a gene therapy is developed that essentially prolongs lifespan indefinitely. Robinson spends much time exploring the demographic and political ramifications of this. A decade ago, this was all very relevant reading.

        • Do try and remember economic leaders are human beings. I don't think many of them would feel as you laid out. They will probably have irrational fear of new technology like any good luddite. But it is doubtful they'd conspire against us, especially when it would mean shortening their own lifespans and their children's. Once the cat isout of the bag they have no reasonable means of keeping it too expensive.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by ultranova (717540)

            Do try and remember economic leaders are human beings.

            Actually, doesn't research show that economic leaders - corporate CEOs, specifically, but judging by their behavior many large investors should be included too - have a very high incidence rate of psychopathy? A psychopath is missing what's usually termed "humanity"; consequently, I must question your assertion.

            But it is doubtful they'd conspire against us, especially when it would mean shortening their own lifespans and their children's.

            A psychopath i

        • You'd put people to work 10 more years, and they don't even need 20 years of study and training, looks like a win-win situation to me.

        • Haven't we already had sudden jumps of 10 years to human lifespan due to medical advances?
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by General Wesc (59919)

            That was through reductions in child mortality, not extending the life of people who manage to live to adulthood. See this chart [elderweb.com] for specifics. Newborns have an extra ~30 years, but 65-year-olds only have an extra ~5, on average.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Opportunist (166417)

          That depends on whether we just get older or whether we also get healthier.

          So far we've been busy finding ways to keep people from dying. This is, of course, quite costy. My great grandma was bedridden for the last 15 years of her life. Just extending that span will certainly put a very heavy strain on any social budget and the institutions supposed to care for those people. If that additional lifetime can be spent active because people also stay healthy and agile longer, the only ones who have to worry are

        • Re:Yes, but... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by ChrisMaple (607946) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @11:59AM (#30343520)

          A substance that would extend life by ten years for everyone would be enormously popular. Politicians that attempted to prevent its general availability would find themselves out of office, or find their lifespans shortened.

          Most substances that have been found to enhance health and/or extend the life of people not suffering some severe disease are natural compounds or close analogs. When the formula or source is known, the same sorts of people that now make illegal drugs would be able to make the life extending compound(s). So if the compound is politically suppressed or made too expensive by a monopoly, the black market will step in and make it widely available.

          Even now, countries outside of the country that develops a drug use the threat of manufacturing it themselves to force down the price. There's no reason this pratice won't continue

          A widespread increase of lifespan by 20 years means people can be productive much longer. While greater widespread wealth can possibly be seen as disruptive, it's hardly something to complain about. A greater portion of old people will also cause a greater accumulation of wisdom (good), a balance toward political conservatism (mixed), and more old people trying to steal from the young by political processes (bad). Most of the "social institution" problems are government related, and it's a sure bet that politicians and "social scientists" are going to see and make more trouble than there is trouble inherent to increased lifespans.

          Furthermore, "a sudden jump of 10 years to human lifespan" is absolutely impossible. Even if nobody dies, it takes ten years for lifespan to increase by ten years.

          • Re:Yes, but... (Score:5, Interesting)

            by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Sunday December 06, 2009 @01:17PM (#30344024) Homepage Journal

            It's not politicians that would attempt to prevent the general availability of a longevity drug. It's much more probable that the drug company that held the patent would restrict it's use by keeping the price artificially high.

            Look at the case of ulcer drugs. At one time, anti-ulcer medications were the top money-makers for drug companies. Even long after research showed that ulcers were caused by bacteria, and could be easily cured by cheap generic antibiotics, drug companies tried to suppress that research in order to maintain their profits. Even after it was widely known and accepted by health providers, drug companies spent tens of millions trying to convince doctors that this simple fix was somehow not in their patients' best interest. It's one example of how a profit motive does not favor the public good.

            Currently, drug companies only fund research that is guaranteed to develop drugs that can be patented, ignoring completely commonly available substances that could be beneficial.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by bakes (87194)

              Currently, drug companies only fund research that is guaranteed to develop drugs that can be patented, ignoring completely commonly available substances that could be beneficial.

              They don't ignore the commonly available alternatives - as you already stated, they discredit, undermine or suppress the cheap alternatives.

              The information is available on the internet, the hard part is finding genuine information amongst all the crap.

    • by DCheesi (150068)

      Actually, it shouldn't be too hard for vegetarians. Different plant food groups have different protein balances; for instance, beans (except soybeans) are deficient in methionine, one of the ones mentioned in the article. That's why vegetarians are encouraged to balance their protein intake by mixing different food types, eg. beans & rice (grains are deficient in a different amino acid).

      All they'd have to do is restrict themselves to one plant protein source, and make sure they're eating just enough to

  • by icebike (68054) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @03:54AM (#30341780)

    Tryptophan, isn't that the sleep inducing post Thanksgiving Feast drug of the ritual Turkey meal?

    What's methionine found in? Don't tell me, pumpkin Pie...

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 06, 2009 @04:02AM (#30341802)

      Tryptophan also naturally occurs in bananas. It metabolizes through a few stages into serotonin.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by palegray.net (1195047)

      What's methionine found in?

      In recent news, the United States government has outlawed the sale of items containing "methionine" on grounds that the first four letters are identical to those found in "methamphetamine." Carol McIdiot, a noted FDA scientist, was quoted as saying "for God's sake, we must stop this contamination at once. Won't someone think of the children? Have you no soul!?!?"

      Film at 11.

    • by Paltin (983254) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @04:09AM (#30341832)
      Tryptophan inducing the Thanksgiving sleep is a nice myth--- but it's a common amino acid, and is actually in a higher concentration in chicken than turkey.

      The sleep inducing factor in your favorite November holiday is actually the fact that you stuff yourself. Eat four pounds of chicken and gravy, and then we'll see if you stay awake. :)
      • by B3ryllium (571199) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @05:21AM (#30342012) Homepage

        Eat four pounds of chicken and gravy, and then we'll see if you stay awake. :)

        I accept the terms of your challenge.

      • by Bent Mind (853241)
        So I have to ask then, what in turkey does induce sleepiness? I don't believe it is a matter of stuffing yourself. For Christmas dinner, I traditionally eat duck. The rest of the meal is very similar to Thanksgiving dinner. Yet I don't feel sleepy after Christmas dinner. For that matter, I tend to eat about as much on Thanksgiving and Christmas as I do any other night. Yet the Turkey dinner is the only one that makes me sleepy. I can even eat a Turkey TV dinner and get sleepy.

        Maybe it is not the tryptophan
        • by Paltin (983254)
          anecdotes =/= science
          • by Bent Mind (853241) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @07:40AM (#30342448)

            anecdotes =/= science

            Not sure what your point was. Were you saying that there isn't any science in your post?

            I found the answer in a wikipedia link [wikipedia.org] provided in another message. The link suggests that the sleepiness is not caused by tryptophan alone. Rather, carbohydrates trigger the release of insulin. Insulin causes muscle to take in LNAA, but not tryptophan. This leaves a larger ratio of tryptophan in the blood to be taken across the blood-brain barrier into the central nervous system. There it is converted into serotonin. The serotonin is metabolized into melatonin. Melatonin makes you sleepy.

            So, tryptophan by itself does not make you sleepy. However, tryptophan combined with carbohydrates leads to the right conditions needed to make you sleepy. It has nothing to do with stuffing yourself. Nor is tryptophan's involvement a myth. It just needs the right conditions. Skip the mashed potatoes and you shouldn't get sleepy from turkey.

            • I've always wondered this myself. Almost all meat contains tryptophan, and turkey doesn't even contain particularly high concentrations when compared to beef. Your comment is very interesting, I wish I had mod points at the moment.
            • by MobyDisk (75490) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @12:08PM (#30343570) Homepage

              Nor is tryptophan's involvement a myth

              The myth is not that tryptophan is involved. The myth is that tryptophan is the cause, and that Turkey causes sleepiness because of it. The fact that there is a small grain of truth in the myth does not make it any less of a myth. The common everyday belief is incorrect.

          • by sjames (1099)

            Sure, but science often happen when a chance observation (an anecdote) leads to curiosity and experimentation.

        • by obarthelemy (160321) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @06:23AM (#30342210)

          the conversation ?

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        The sleep inducing factor in your favorite November holiday is actually the fact that you stuff yourself. Eat four pounds of chicken and gravy, and then we'll see if you stay awake. :)

        I don't believe you; it might not be Tryptophan, but it is definitely something in turkey. We roadkilled a young hen last year or so, and on our way back found her lying dead in a vineyard, so we brought her home and made stew out of her that ended up being like a sleeping pill. One bowl and you were ready for a nap; two and you'd pass out. And I'm not talking mixing bowls here, either. We don't normally eat Turkeys in that season, but whatever it is was far more than usually pronounced.

        • by biryokumaru (822262) * <biryokumaru@gmail.com> on Sunday December 06, 2009 @09:39AM (#30342816)

          All I saw was "blah blah blah, we eat roadkill."

          This is probably unfair, but I feel that that aspect of your story diminishes your credibility.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            This is probably unfair, but I feel that that aspect of your story diminishes your credibility.

            Only to those people whose opinions don't matter, and I will be making no apologies for that statement. I knew the animal hadn't been lying out long enough to be dangerous. NOT eating the animal would be reprehensible, and anyone who thinks otherwise is the one with the problem. Here in Lake County, California we just basically eliminated Animal Control (in spite of having one of the highest per-capita concentrations of police in the nation, we apparently can't fund animal control) so people are being told

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by millennial (830897)
      Not quite. [wikipedia.org] But yeah, I had the same thought :)

      One belief is that heavy consumption of turkey meat (as for example in a Thanksgiving or Christmas feast) results in drowsiness, which has been attributed to high levels of tryptophan contained in turkey. While turkey does contain high levels of tryptophan, the amount is comparable to that contained in most other meats. Furthermore, postprandial Thanksgiving sedation may have more to do with what else is consumed along with the turkey, in particular carbohydrate

      • by shawb (16347) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @06:47AM (#30342290)
        True, to get sleepy from the tryptophan in turkey, one would have to figure out how to eat that turkey without eating the other amino acids present... it only promotes sleepiness when consumed on its own.

        However, there is still a twisted nugget of almost truth if you follow one of the current theories on postprandial sedation. The whole chain goes something like this:
        Eating large amounts of starchy food -> increased blood sugar levels.
        elevated blood sugar -> insulin release
        elevated insulin levels -> increased absorption of long chain amino acids into muscle tissue
        increased absorption of long chain amino acids -> decreased blood serum levels of long chain amino acids
        decreased serum long chain amino acid levels -> increased serum ratio of short chain/long chain amino acids
        tryptophan is a short chain amino acid, and higher serum ratios of tryptophan lead to increased production of seratonin and melatonin, leading to sleepiness.

        So yes, there is some tryptophan in turkey. And tryptophan supplements can induce sleepiness, but they need to be taken on an empty stomach to do so. That is because digesting pure tryptophan will also increase the serum ration of tryptophan to other amino acids. However in a traidional thankgsiving feast, it's the massive overload of carbs in the stuffing, corn, bread, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, cranberry marshmallow fluff, pie, whipped cream and even gravy (it's thickened with starch) that lead to the sleep inducing increased serum ratio of tryptophan. Some of the sleepiness can also be blamed on redirecting a good portion of blood flow to the digestive system to tackle the huge meal just consumed. A glass of wine or two can provide enough alcohol for the final KO providing the need to sleep.
        • Okay, here's an example:

          Let's pick a food with much higher tryptophan than turkey. Let's pick eggs, which have 1g tryptophan per 100g eggs, which is 3-4 times more than in turkey.

          Let's pair them with some "starchy" foods. Maybe, pancakes. Or Waffles. Maybe cereal, or hashbrowns. I like eggs mixed into my hashbrowns, so I'll pick them.

          Clearly, this intense dosage of tryptophan and carbohydrates should knock me out cold. Several sittings may be necessary to determine an accurate effect.

          Fortunately, I eat this

      • by X0563511 (793323)

        emphasis on "postprandial Thanksgiving sedation may have more to do with"

        There's a lot of anecdotal evidence...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      There is more tryptophan in a glass of milk than a serving of turkey
      • There is more tryptophan in a glass of milk than a serving of turkey

        Is that why the myth of "drink a glass of warm milk to help you sleep better" appeared? I have no idea.

      • by tsjaikdus (940791)

        Darn, I knew I shouldn't trust wiki!

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tryptophan [wikipedia.org]

        turkey 0.24 [g/100 g of food]
        milk 0.08 [g/100 g of food]

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What's methionine found in?

      From wikipedia: Methionine is one of only two amino acids encoded by a single codon (AUG) in the standard genetic code (tryptophan, encoded by UGG, is the other). The codon AUG is also the "Start" message for a ribosome that signals the initiation of protein translation from mRNA. As a consequence, methionine is incorporated into the N-terminal position of all proteins in eukaryotes and archaea during translation, although it is usually removed by post-translational modification.

      Wild speculation on my part

      • by chartreuse (16508)

        I've never said this before, but somebody mod this up, it's useful data even if the speculation isn't (or is) shown to be the case.

      • by MrMr (219533)
        You may be right, lab animals live a lot longer if they are kept on a starvation diet. The effect for humans seems to be limited to only a couple of years.
    • No tryptophan in TFA (Score:5, Informative)

      by mangu (126918) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @05:23AM (#30342022)

      I am the one slashdotter that reads TFA (the full article) before posting. I even did a search for tryptophan. Nope, it's not there. Maybe the submitter forgot a link, but tryptophan is never mentioned in the sciencenews.org article.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by jonnat (1168035)

      If you are interested, here is a list of food products containing high levels of methionine:

      http://www.nutritiondata.com/foods-000084000000000000000-w.html [nutritiondata.com]

      And tryptophan:

      http://www.nutritiondata.com/foods-000079000000000000000-w.html [nutritiondata.com]

  • You don't have to eat your greens anymore, go straight to dessert!
  • This study may be especially significant for those employed in the nocturnal carnal need satisfaction industry, especially around holiday seasons. It might be the season to be jolly, but think of your health!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 06, 2009 @04:06AM (#30341818)

    Now I can live longer and get a flat stomach by following ONE simple rule.

  • > Amino acids that have shown this have been tryptophan

    couldn't they have told us this before thanksgivig?

  • Couldn't they have told me this one week before I OD'd on tryptophan, not one week after?
  • Link to actual study (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 06, 2009 @05:04AM (#30341976)

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature08619.html for the actual study

  • Amino Acids (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LightPhoenix7 (1070028) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @05:08AM (#30341980)

    So... what they discovered is that limiting diets reduce reproduction at the expense of lifespan?

    Color me skeptical, but this is not exactly new. It's well known that limited diets reduce reproductive metabolism in favor of survival. After all, what good is reproduction if you don't live to do it.

    Now, I'm not saying this is all bunk. I don't know. What I am saying is that all this really proves is that methionine is necessary for egg-laying and lifespan in Drosophila. That's a far stretch from saying that reducing methionine increases lifespan in well-fed humans. In fact, what TFA says is that there is a discrepancy in studies. In fact, TFA doesn't even mention tryptophan, so I don't know where the submitter got that.

    Unfortunately, I can't access the Nature article right now. However, I'll definitely be taking a look at it tomorrow, because I am extremely skeptical of these claims.

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      It's well known that limited diets reduce reproductive metabolism in favor of survival. After all, what good is reproduction if you don't live to do it.

      While that may be true, I think it is more of a case of: what good is reproduction (which requires a lot of resources from the mother before birth) when there is not enough food to go around even without extra mouths to feed. Better save the expense of pregnancy for times when there is better chance for the baby to actually have enough to eat.

  • by bhima (46039) * <Bhima.Pandava@NOspaM.gmail.com> on Sunday December 06, 2009 @05:17AM (#30342010) Journal

    As a subscriber to Nature I find it interesting that when we're talking about amino acids Nature is a highly respected international weekly journal of science but.... when we're talking climate science it's the nexus of an evil, duplicitous, Socialist, Marxist, environmentalist cabal bent on destroying the fabric of American society.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Nature journal /is/ "the nexus of an evil, duplicitous, Socialist, Marxist, environmentalist cabal bent on destroying the fabric of American society", regardless of scientific disciplines.

    • Well we all know nature has a liberal bias. ;-)

      (sorry, couldn't help myself )

    • by selven (1556643)

      When talking about computers I'm a respected person of knowledge but when we're talking about hair styles I'm pretty useless.

      • by bhima (46039) *

        This is one of the many issues which peer review is designed to overcome. As far as I can tell it works extremely well. There's certainly no evidence that it works wonderfully in my field but breaks down in other fields.

    • by argStyopa (232550) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @10:15AM (#30342978) Journal

      Neither of the two, actually.
      Nature is a magazine, edited by humans, who have their own collection of baggage and biases. In general, these don't interfere with a generally good job of presenting relatively objective information on science.
      As far as anthropogenic global warming is considered, they're as likely as anyone to fall for the popular hysteria, particularly when it's driven by their own peers.

      Now, you might dismiss this was "ah, he's a denier, he's just parroting his viewpoint" and in a sense I am - a believe global warming is probably a systemic change maybe/maybe not tipped by human activity, and that in any case it's extremely unlikely that it's driven by CO2, or limitable in any meaningful way without genocidal levels of population reduction. There, that's my bias, all clear and present.

      But I'd look directly at Nature and ask when they've made any such clear statement? Clearly, they have a non-challenging editorial stance when approaching the laughable 'science facts' in an Inconvenient Truth (not a whisper from Nature as far as I can recall). Nature IS a respected science journal, that would be a perfect place for the fallacies of the AGW hypothesis to be dissected and the valid conclusions reinforced. But no, instead they seem to prefer the role of mandarins, defending an established dogma without really every looking at it critically or questioning it honestly.

  • by foobsr (693224) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @05:21AM (#30342016) Homepage Journal
    TFA: "“The idea that only calories are important is basically falling apart,” Fontana says."

    Perhaps one should consider that in complex systems there is no such thing like 'only'.

    CC.
  • Bad summary (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Mathinker (909784)

    If anything, TFA says that you should restrict all amino acids except methionine. If you are fruit fly, that is.

    TFA also says nothing about tryptophan in particular.

    Or am I totally confused?

  • Tryptophan? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Nithendil (1637041)

    The summary mentions tryptophan but it isn't anywhere in the article. And I wonder if the decreased longevity is due to the excessive methionine itself or a result of its byproducts such as SAM and homocysteine.

  • keep the herd in stock. Dont undo their experiments.
    Like an admin on holiday, when they get back its personal.
  • by erroneus (253617) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @07:41AM (#30342452) Homepage

    We all know how this goes. If it feels good, we do it. If it feels bad, we don't do it or we avoid whatever causes it. Salt? Good... what does it matter that too much causes health problems? Sugar? Good... what does it matter that...? You get the idea.

    • by selven (1556643)

      Salt tastes good? Your tastes must differ completely from mine. I think it's a developed thing from many years of not eating salt with everything.

  • I, like many people, welcome the idea of living as long as I can be productive and maybe a bit beyond -- but I have no wish to live indefinitely if that life is one of immobility, pain, and humiliating dependence both physically and financially.

    If this, or any, treatment results in an increased healthy lifespan by somehow allowing my body to repair itself as it did when I was in my twenties or even my early thirties then I'm I'm for it. Of course, t

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