Vladimir Anisimov is a veteran gerontologist at the Petrov Institute in St Petersburg, who has also been testing longevity potions on mice through a long career. Anisimov is a glass-half-full kind of guy. His best contribution to anti-aging medicine may be epithalamin, a treatment that has been hiding in plain sight for over thirty years.
An innovator with a deep knowledge of biochemistry, Anisimov has published theoretical as well as practical science. His lab has tested biochemical ideas about aging, as well as doing many studies on genetics and longevity in rodents and flies. He has reported and summarized results of other Russian labs in English-language journals.
Melatonin, the hormone that regulates our daily cycle, is also found to prolong lifespan in mice. Melatonin in the blood is very sensitive to light exposure, and melatonin disappears with the dawn’s early light. Anisimov found that sleeping in total darkness is better for longevity than exposure to light during the night. Here are two reviews by Anisimov of mostly Russian work on life extension with melatonin [2003, 2006].
Another of Anisimov’s lines of research is less well-known to me, and I report here my first impressions. He has worked with “short peptides”, strings of less than 10 amino acids, that can act as signals or switches that control body chemistry globally. Short peptides are small enough to pass easily through the skin or through the blood-brain barrier. Unlike full-size proteins, short peptides tend to resist dismemberment by stomach enzymes. Carnosine and carnitine are familiar examples of di-peptides, consisting of 2 amino acids.
Here’s the theory: We know that gene expression is quite different in old and young people. In the literature, you find various interpretations and explanations why this might be true. But my interpretation is clear and simple: The body times its life cycle using gene expression. When we’re young, we express genes that make us grow. When we’re middle-aged, we express genes that keep us healthy. When we’re old, we express genes that destroy us.
Here’s a paper in which Anisimov summarizes 35 years’ experience with animal experiments, and some tantalizing human results as well. (One of the differences in Russian bio-medicine, for better and for worse, is that regulations about experiments on humans are more relaxed than in the US.)
Here’s a table summarizing results in mice and rats. (As usual, life extension in flies is more dramatic but less indicative of human benefits.) As you can see, this is a science that goes back to the 1970s, when the top two preparations were purified from epithalamus and thymus glands.
The thymus is a gland in the upper chest that trains the immune cells in our blood to attack invading cells but to lay off our own body’s cells. As we get older, the thymus shrinks, and I believe this to be a basic cause of aging immune function, autoimmune disease, and increased susceptibility to infection. Thymalin was found to stimulate thymus re-growth and to rejuvenate immune function.
Epithalamin (Epitalon or epithalon) and was discovered in extracts from a region of the brain called the epithalamus. This region contains the pineal gland, or “third eye”, which controls wake/sleep cycles and is the body’s source of melatonin. Like thymalin, epithalamin is a string of four amino acids. Thymalin generated excitement in the 1980s until epithalamin stole its thunder. Not only did it extend life more consistently, but its effect on thymic growth was found to be superior to thymalin.
In the table, epithalamin has been the best-studied short peptide, and it has the best record for life extension in rodents. In a separate table, the same paper shows that epithalamin and thymalin suppress cancer in rodents. There is also evidence of large reductions in mortality when epithalamin was given to older human subjects:
In addition, it has recently been reported (2003, 2004) that epithalamin is a telomerase activator. Skeptics (Spindler in particular) point out that caloric restriction is such a strong influence on lifespan that many treatments will appear to show benefit only because they affect appetite. Some of the studies do measure food intake and find that epithalamin is able to increase lifespan without decreasing food consumption.
(Epitalon is available commercially, but not from most supplement sources. Recommended dosage is usually less than 10mg, but experience with different dosages is very limited.)