Common drug linked to longevity in mice

Metformin, used worldwide to treat Type 2 diabetes (in which the body does not appropriately respond to insulin in the bloodstream, leading to excessive amounts of insulin in the blood), may be one of the most prescribed drugs for this condition. This drug doesn’t just treat the insulin; unlike most drugs, this one also helps prevent many of the cardiovascular problems associated with the hormonal imbalances of diabetes. It is also commonly used to treat polycystic ovarian disorder and metabolic syndrome, two disorders still not completely understood.

A new study released in Nature Communication this month revealed that when fed in very low doses to middle aged mice, metformin actually did more. This drug seemed to mimic the effects of a low-calorie diet; namely, it increased the lifespan of the mice in the experimental group. However, in higher doses, metformin did enough kidney damage to significantly shorten lifespans – in fact, it shortened lives by more than the lower dose lengthened them.

It’s still an interesting result, and it’s worth remember that studying animal models allow us to discover which paths are worth pursuing in human models, with all the risks that entails, in a safer, faster, more humane manner.

Bias shows up in really strange places…

In the history of the Nobel Prize, a total of 4 people have won the prize more than once. Linus Pauling is one of those four people. He won the award in Chemistry in 1954, and then again for Peace in 1962. This makes him one of only two people to have won the award in two unrelated fields (Marie Curie being the other). He’s also the only person not to have shared his prizes – these prizes were not shared with other scientists (as with the discovery of the structure of DNA, credited to Watson & Crick) or humanitarians.

Pauling’s work is credited with having helped found both the fields of quantum chemistry (think about our understanding of the atom, and how that shapes our comprehension of how chemistry functions – for instance, that bonds are about the sharing or exchange of electrons) and molecular biology, or the application of chemistry to the biological sciences and the exploration of biology on the molecular level – including his own search for the structure of DNA. In fact, it was Pauling who discovered the secondary structure of proteins – alpha helices and beta pleated sheets.

Pauling’s genius in the fields of chemistry and biochemistry in the beginning of his career makes his approach to dietary supplements, starting with vitamin C, even more surprising. In this article from The Atlantic, Dr. Paul Offit discussed Pauling’s views on vitamins, minerals, and other supplements. The problem, it turns out, isn’t that there aren’t any studies examining the impact of these supplements. No – given Pauling’s faith in them, multiple studies were done – the support for the claims being made simply didn’t exist. No matter how much Linus Pauling wanted extra-dietary vitamins to be panaceas, the evidence from studies repeatedly demonstrated that not only were these supplements not helpful, some can actually be harmful.

The distinction between extra-dietary supplements and what is consumed in food is apparently important. The problems seen from consuming supplements as pills, tablets, or other dosage forms can be avoided if the nutrients instead come from dietary sources. In other words, instead of taking an iron supplement, consuming red meat, green vegetables, and nuts is safer.

All of this just demonstrates that it is important to rely on repeatable, measurable evidence rather than our gut instincts when exploring science. Even geniuses can be lead astray.

Apologies for the delay…

I know there was a gap: Physics was a little more difficult than I anticipated. I’m working on building a log of posts and articles, along with a schedule so that the site will update even when I’m busy so that this will be less of a problem.

Let’s call it growing pains?


Talk about the blues…

One of the greatest mysteries in life is death. In an attempt to understand what occurs in the last moments of life, scientists study the lives and deaths of animals, looking for clues that might be applicable to larger organisms. One such study, in London, examined worms. This article, from The Conversation & Ars Technica, discusses the finding: a blue light signaled the death of the worm. While in some cases, delaying the blue light could also delay death, it appeared it didn’t work in all cases. More details can be found at the link.