Researchers Find Drug to Reverse Effects of Aging

According to a report from the University of Virginia Health System, an anti-aging pill may be in the making. During a two year investigation, researchers found they were able to increase muscle mass in healthy senior adults by providing a single daily dose of MK-677, a drug currently under investigation for safety. The scientists plan to explore the potential of the drug for helping improve quality of life for frail seniors.

The study, Published in the November 4, 2008 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, found that MK-677 acted much like the “fountain of youth”. Study participants experienced increased levels of the growth hormones (GH) and insulin-like growth factor I(IGF- I), without serious side effects. The hormone levels were found to be comparable to those of healthy young adults. The result was a 20% increase in muscle mass in the arms and legs of the study participants.

We are living longer, but quality of life is an issue associated with loss of muscle mass, and weakness as we age. Dr. Michael O. Thorner, a researcher of growth hormone regulation and a professor of internal medicine and neurosurgery at UVA says, "Our study opens the door to the possibility of developing treatments that avert the frailty of aging. The search for anti-frailty medications has become increasingly important because the average American is expected to live into his or her 80s, and most seniors want to stay strong enough to remain independent as they age”.

The study group ranged in age from 60 to 81. The experimental drug, MK-677 mimics the action of ghrelin, a hormone produced in the stomach that increases appetite. Ghrelin receptors stimulate the release of growth hormone (GHS-R), found on the cells in the pituitary that secrete growth hormone, as well as in the hypothalamus, heart and fatty tissue.

We haven’t really found our “fountain of youth”, as long term studies are needed to prove the drug is safe – always an issue when we experiment with our natural processes. However, the researchers believe MK-677 shows promise for improving body composition in seniors who are physically fragile, making it an excellent target for further investigation.

For now,it’s best to focus on maintaining strength through resistance training and aerobic exercise. Maintaining quality of life in our senior years requires starting early building muscle mass. Current studies show that once we reach age 80, it’s impossible to naturally improve muscle size. It's important to start now. We might find an easier way to stay strong, but studies take time, and we’ve yet to find that “magic pill”. For the time being, focus on building muscle now.


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