A research team from Louisiana State University’s Department of Biological Sciences, led by Assistant Professor Adam Bohnert, has published a landmark study linking better metabolic health – achieved through a natural plant extract – and longer life in C.elegans, commonly called roundworms. Although worms and humans don’t appear to have much in common, the researchers say there’s good reason to assume the findings could be replicated in humans, as the study relies on previous work on metabolic health in mice, conducted at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center. under the direction of Professor Jacqueline Stephens.
“The reason this study made so much sense to do on the worms is that the worms only live about three weeks, so within a month or two we had definitive results,” said LSU student Bhaswati Ghosh. and lead author of the published study.
Bohnert and Stephens’ research teams are interested in studying the effects of Artemisia scoparius, a natural plant extract of a particular type of wormwood native to Asia. Made from its leaves, the extract was fed to worms in various doses in Bohnert’s lab. The treated worms that received the highest dose and the second highest dose showed an almost immediate improvement in their metabolic health. Not only did the treated worms live up to 40% longer than the untreated control group, but they also grew in size and somewhat slowly, as their increased body mass made them harder to move. But the worms have also become healthier and more resilient. It was easier for the treated worms to handle the stress. Additionally, the researchers found that Artemisia scoparius helps convert unhealthy fat stores into healthy fat stores in the body.
This study adds to previous work by Bohnert and LSU Assistant Professor Alyssa Johnson on how dietary changes influence aging at the cellular level. Now it appears Artemisia scoparius can also activate many pro-longevity pathways in the body and effectively activate several genes involved in the process of lifespan regulation.
“Until recently, it was unclear how aging could be altered by diet, or how essential metabolic signaling pathways influence longevity,” Bohnert said. “What we were able to show is that a natural extract can come in and influence these pathways the same way a genetic mutation would.”
The study positions aging as non-deterministic and under our control.
“Mostly, it gives us a therapeutic perspective,” Bohnert said. “We know that age is the main risk factor for many diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, but if you think of aging as a treatable disease, you can actually treat several diseases at once.”
While the longest-lived worms were fed Artemisia scoparius by the time they reached reproductive maturity, or adulthood, Bohnert’s team also observed significant effects in worms first treated in middle age. Instead of a 40% increase in lifespan, these worms still managed to live about 20% longer.
The study offers a first insight into how Artemisia scoparius could change aging and longevity. It also reinforces the link between metabolic health, fat regulation and longer lifespan.
“Usually people think of fat as ‘bad,’ but in these cases it looks good and actually promotes longevity,” Bohnert said. “Artemisia scoparius could have exciting potential as a dietary supplement.”
“Also, just because an organism is small, big, and slow doesn’t necessarily qualify it as unhealthy,” Ghosh added. “These phenotypes must be considered in the full context of other parameters, including lifespan.”
There are currently no recommendations for humans to take Artemisia scoparius as a supplement or any indication of what an effective and safe dosage might be. Researchers have studied several types of extracts from related plants and have only observed positive effects on fat regulation and longevity with Artemisia scoparius. common wormwood, Wormwood Artemisiaused as an ingredient in the alcoholic beverage absinthe, is moderately toxic and was not included in the study.
This work was supported by a pilot grant from the NIH-funded Botanical Dietary Supplement Research Center at Pennington Biomedical. The study was published on February 15, 2022 in Gerontology journals.