Ibuprofen, the Fountain of Youth?
One of these days, science might recommend he just stay home and raid the medicine cabinet.
Because as it turns out, ibuprofen might be the elixir of life. It just depends on whose life we’re talking about.
If you’re a human, there’s no evidence yet that the drug will extend your stay on Earth. But if you’re a fly, a worm or a strand of yeast—well, a new day has dawned.
A study published recently in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS Genetics offers an exciting glimpse at the possibilities for ibuprofen, beyond anti-inflammation and pain relief.
Researchers at Texas A&M University discovered the drug extends the lifespan of worms and flies by 10 percent, and by 17 percent for yeast. And these simple organisms don’t just enjoy longer lives with ibuprofen. They live better, too.
“They stayed alive longer and they appeared to be relatively healthy,” Texas A&M University biochemist Michael Polymenis, PhD. “There’s a difference between just living longer and living longer better.”
If further research bears proof that ibuprofen has similar effects on humans—any such discovery is a ways off—the drug would proportionately add about eight years to the human average lifespan of 80 years. And that’s at the low end of the spectrum.
But again, it’s all theoretical as it applies to people. Even Polymenis, one of the lead researchers in the study, cautions: “I do not take ibuprofen to live longer. I take it when I have a headache.”
He’d be in agreement with George Bruins, MD, a physician of geriatric and family medicine at Spectrum Health Medical Group.
“Don’t try this at home,” said Dr. Bruins, offering up staunch advice to anyone thinking about working ibuprofen into their daily intake. “Ibuprofen, especially in older adults, can have significant side effects and it hasn’t been shown to increase longevity in humans.”
Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen carry the risk of causing gastrointestinal problems, particularly in people age 60 and older, according to the FDA.
Further, the American Geriatrics Society recommends finding alternatives to ibuprofen, aspirin and other NSAIDs because they can increase the chance of stomach and intestinal bleeding in adults age 75 and older, and in adults age 65 and older who are taking certain other medications.
Polymenis said he and the team of researchers used ibuprofen in this experiment because its effect on the aging process had never been examined. The study did not account for ibuprofen’s known risks. His primary co-author was Brian Kennedy, of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, Calif., with additional work by others at Texas A&M University and a biology institute in Russia.
“There are many reports that ibuprofen has shown benefits in people, for reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s,” Polymenis said. “But longevity? No one ever tested it.”
In this study the organisms were exposed to ibuprofen from birth to death. At high doses the drug was toxic, but at the proper dose it did the trick, although the proper dose varied depending on the organism.
“The right dose for flies was much lower than it was for worms or yeast,” Polymenis said.
The next step, of course, will involve testing the drug’s longevity effects in more developed animals such as mice.
“The point we’re trying to make in the study is it may not be as hard as previously thought to identify commonly used drugs for any possible longevity effects,” Polymenis said. “It doesn’t mean that this would happen in humans, or even in mice. But it’s cautiously promising.”
Dr. Bruins agrees: It’s promising.
“Research is uncovering some fascinating leads regarding cellular and genetic factors involving aging,” he said. “Perhaps in our lifetime there will be more significant increases in longevity.”
For now, though, it’s best to listen to mom’s advice, via Dr. Bruins: “Eat your vegetables, sleep seven to eight hours per night, exercise, avoid obesity, don’t smoke and use alcohol in moderation or not all.”
Until science proves otherwise, he noted, take ibuprofen for aches and pains.