Compound in Food Increases Longevity, Reduces Liver Cancer Risk

A compound in aged cheese, mushrooms, and whole grains found to increase life span by 25% in animal models.

Consuming foods rich in spermidine may prevent liver fibrosis and hepatocellular carcinoma, a recent study suggests.

Spermidine is a polyamine compound that was first isolated from semen. It is found in foods such as aged cheese, mushrooms, soy products, legumes, corn, and whole grains. In a study published in Cancer Research, investigators administered an oral supplement of spermidine to animal models.

The results of the study showed that the animals administered spermidine lived longer and were less likely develop liver fibrosis and cancerous liver tumors—–even when predisposed for those conditions––compared with untreated animals.

“It’s a dramatic increase in lifespan of animal models, as much as 25%,” said investigator Leyuan Liu, PhD. “In human terms, that would mean that instead of living to about 81 years old, the average American could live to be over 100.”

Unfortunately, for humans to reap this kind of benefit they would have to begin ingesting spermidine from the time they first started eating solid foods. Animal models that were treated later in the study only experienced a 10% increase in longevity.

“Only 3 interventions­­—–severely cutting the number of calories consumed, restricting the amount of methionine in the diet, and using the drug rapamycin––have been shown to truly prolong the lifespans of vertebrates, but eating less and not eating meat will not be welcomed by general population, while rapamycin has shown to suppress the human immune system,” Liu said. “Therefore, spermidine may be a better approach.”

Ingesting spermidine long-term could be a possibility for humans if it can eventually be made into a safe supplement.

“Spermidine is a product naturally found in food, so we hope it would have minimal side effects,” Liu said. “The next steps would be human clinical trials to determine safety and efficacy.”

Even if individuals do not take spermidine until later in life, they may still reap liver and heart benefits. In the animal models administered spermidine, they experienced a reduction in liver lesions and the intensity of liver fibrosis.

Liu suggested one unique idea of how to incorporate the compound.

“Just think: if we added spermidine to every bottle of beer, it might balance out the alcohol and help protect the liver,” Liu said.

Although the findings show promise, Liu cautioned that the results are preliminary and have only been achieved in animal models thus far.

“It’s still early, but perhaps one day this approach will provide a novel strategy to prolong lifespans, prevent or reverse liver fibrosis, and prevent, delay or cure hepatocellular carcinoma in humans,” Liu concluded.