The fountain of youth may be more like a “squirt.”
Chinese scientists have discovered that sea squirt — a mollusk commonly consumed throughout East Asia — could potentially help reverse the effects of aging in those who eat it.
“It could be that a pill to keep you young may not be such an unrealistic proposition after all — as long as it contains sea squirts,” said Professor Lei Fu, one of the authors of the study, in a Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University statement.
For the uninitiated, the aptly named sea squirt, with its penchant for shooting water from its orifices, is a marine invertebrate that’s consumed raw throughout Japan and South Korea. Also known as a sea pineapple, the ocean denizen is covered by a rubbery red carapace that’s removed when served, so diners can feast on its succulent orange insides.
The critter also contains plasmalogens — the age-reversing ingredient in question. The substance, a type of lipid, is also found in our brain and decreases with age. This can give rise to a variety of neurodegenerative diseases from Alzheimer’s disease to Parkinson’s.
Scientists wanted to learn whether this seafood-derived supplement — specifically, a type called ethanolamine plasmalogens — could help bolster cognitive health, so they fed squirts to a group of elderly mice and later tested them for improved memory and learning abilities.
Among the experiments, rodents were made to wade through a Morris water maze, an aquatic labyrinth with only one resting platform. Mice aren’t particularly fond of water, so their natural tendency is to try and memorize the platform’s location, until they can swim directly to safety upon hitting the drink. But due to lagging mental acuity, older mice generally take longer to find the platform with the same amount of training.
However, aged rodents that had consumed plasmalogens fared just as well as young mice when it came to completing the task.
A subsequent examination of the mice’s brains revealed that the plasmalogen-charged mice had more and better quality synapses — the connections between neurons — than the old rodents who weren’t fed squirt supplements.
“We found that plasmalogens significantly increase the number of molecules that aid the growth and development of neurones and synapses in the brain,” said Fu. “This suggests that plasmalogens can promote neuroregeneration.”
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences, is the first to show how these chemicals impact the aging brain. The clock-rewinding research also included support from scientists at Stanford University, Shanghai Jiao tong University and the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences.
“Our research suggests that plasmalogens may not just stop cognitive decline, but may reverse cognitive impairments in the ageing brain,” Fu said.
In turn, ethanolamine plasmalogens — higher proportions of which are found in some shellfish, as opposed to other meats — can help keep brain-wasting diseases at bay.
If a de-aging brain weren’t reason enough, this sea-dwelling panacea is a prized aphrodisiac in Chile — there dubbed the “poor man’s Viagra” — which some have chalked up to the fact that the hermaphroditic creature can literally go screw itself.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the sex-boosting drug was recently also found to cut the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 69%.