The blood pressure drug rilmenidine has been shown to slow the aging of worms, an effect that in humans could hypothetically help us live longer and stay healthier in our later years. .
Rilmenidine was chosen for this latest study because previous research has shown that it mimics the effects of calorie restriction at the cellular level. Reducing available energy while maintaining nutrition in the body has been shown to extend lifespan in several animal models.
Whether this translates to human biology or poses a potential risk to our health is a matter of ongoing debate. Finding ways to get the same benefits without the costs of extreme calorie reduction could lead to new ways to improve the health of older adults.
In a series of tests conducted by an international team of researchers, young and old Caenorhabditis elegans worms treated with the drug – which is normally used to treat high blood pressure – lived longer and had higher measurements in a variety of health markers the same way they restricted calories, scientists say had hoped.
«For the first time, we were able to show in animals that rilmenidine can increase lifespan,» says molecular biogerontologist João Pedro Magalhães, from the University of Birmingham in the UK. «We are now keen to explore whether rilmenidine may have further clinical applications.»
The C.elegans The worm is a favorite for study because many of its genes bear similarities to their counterparts in our genome. Yet despite these similarities, it is still quite a distant relationship to humans.
Further tests showed that gene activity associated with calorie restriction could be observed in the kidney and liver tissues of rilmenidine-treated mice. In other words, some of the changes that calorie restriction causes in animals that are thought to confer certain health benefits also appear with a blood pressure medication that many people are already taking.
Another finding was that a biological signaling receptor called nish-1 was crucial in the effectiveness of rilmenidine. This particular chemical structure could be targeted in future attempts to improve lifespan and slow aging.
«We found that the lifespan effects of rilmenidine were abolished when nish-1 was removed,» the researchers write in their published paper. «Critically, rescue of the nish-1 receptor restored the increase in lifespan upon rilmenidine treatment.»
Low-calorie diets are difficult to follow and come with a variety of side effects, such as thinning hair, dizziness and brittle bones. It’s still early days, but it’s believed that this blood pressure medication may provide the same benefits of a low-calorie diet while being gentler on the body.
What makes rilmenidine a promising candidate as an anti-aging drug is that it can be taken orally, it is already widely prescribed, and its side effects are rare and relatively mild (palpitations, insomnia and drowsiness in some cases).
There’s still a long way to go to determine if rilmenidine would work as an anti-aging drug for real humans, but early signs from these tests in worms and mice are promising. We now know a lot more about what rilmenidine can do and how it works.
“With an aging global population, the benefits of delaying aging even slightly are immense,” says Magalhães.
The research has been published in aging cell.