This drug could be promising in extending life (and it's already in your medicine cabinet)

Jenna Birch

While the research is still young — it’s only been conducted in animals so far — scientists are growing more excited about the potential life-extending prospects of ibuprofen. (Getty Images)

One of the most common pain-relievers could be promising in the quest for longevity, according to a new study in animals in the journal PLOS Genetics. 

In the research, scientists treated yeast, worms, and fruit flies with normal doses of ibuprofen (which is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID, popularly known by the brand names of Advil and or Motrin). The doses were akin to what a human might take for a regular headache or a little muscle soreness. 

Researchers found that all species lived about 15 percent longer when treated with the ibuprofen, and the worms and fruit flies appeared to behave in a healthier manner.

The idea for the study came when study researcher and biochemist Michael Polymenis, PhD, of Texas A&M University, approached fellow researcher Brian Kennedy, PhD, the CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, with an idea to study how his cell cycle lab tests might overlap with existing research on cell aging.

Further studies led to the conclusion that ibuprofen inhibits uptake of tryptophan and other amino acids into the cell. Tryptophan is an amino acid that’s an essential building block of proteins, but also involved in the regulation of “the calming hormone”  serotonin, and is vital for all health across organisms. 

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The presence of i buprofen seems to disrupt the enzyme Tat2 permease, which helps a cell take in that oh-so-necessary tryptophan. However, lifespan for the yeast still saw a significant jump even when that enzyme was deactivated. (In these conditions, tryptophan levels were reduced but not to zero, since the yeast cell can make tryptophan internally.)

Furthermore, when the scientists stabilized the enzyme activity while exposing the yeast to ibuprofen, the yeast’s lifespan did not increase — meaning the ibuprofen was doing something else to boost the cell health when the tryptophan wasn’t. 

Deactivating the permease, which rapidly takes in amino acids like tryptophan, has an unexpected effect on cell aging. “Ibuprofen slows the transport of amino acids, and the protein synthesis slows down,”   Kennedy tells Yahoo Health. Slower protein synthesis equals slower aging — which equates to increased longevity across all the species. After yeast, the same bump was also shown in fruit flies and worms. 

This study is the first to identify a potential new drug candidate to target aging: ibuprofen. According to Kennedy, if the drug had the same effect in humans, something that needs to be tested, it could mean a significant enhancement of healthy aging. 

Another decade of living isn’t so bad, right?

However, this doesn’t mean you should pop ibuprofen tablets for anything aside from standard use, though. “We should err on the side of caution now, until further testing is done,” says Kennedy. “However, like people taking an aspirin a day as a preventative measure, it’s not that crazy to think ibuprofen could provide some protective benefits.”

Next step: taking this idea up the chain to test ibuprofen’s impact on lifespan in mice. For humans, though, Kennedy’s larger goal is simpler and broader than figuring out the mechanism for anti-aging with this common NSAID. “We’re not doing enough to keep people healthier longer,” he says. “Right now, it’s not health care, so much as sick care. I think we’ll be able to do better soon in terms of increasing not just lifespan, but health-span.” Maybe with ibuprofen, however this research is still early stages.

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There are a few steps you can take right now, however, to stay healthier and live longer. According to Melina Jampolis, MD, an internist and physician-nutrition specialist based out of Los Angeles, California, here’s what to try while awaiting word on ibuprofen:

Control inflammation

The biggest factor in the war on aging is controlling inflammation in the body. “This is based on the length of caps on the end of your chromosomes called telomeres,” Jampolis tells Yahoo Health. “Telomeres are the best aging markers that we have — the longer they are, the better,” and inflammation has been linked with shorter telomeres.

To curb inflammation at the cellular level, Jampolis says to eat a diet high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids (like the Mediterranean Diet we hear so much about), which should include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fatty fish. “Reducing belly fat is also critically important,” she says. Getting testing done for high-sensitive C-reactive protein (HSCRP) might also be a good idea, since it’s considered a risk factor for conditions such as heart disease. Talk to your doc for more information about this screening.

Retain muscle mass

One of the biggest components of aging is muscle loss. Not only is it a visible ager, but slowing your exercise regimen and less lean muscle mass may lead to more body fat and, again, more of that cellular inflammation.

“Sarcopenia is what we see when people get older, where muscles degenerate,” says Jampolis, who says a mix of strength training and a diet high in protein and omega-3s is your best bet to stay strong. “Recent research has shown people over 50 may need more protein, but exercise is really key.”

Take care of your skin

Jampolis mentions another key to living healthier, longer: skincare. “Especially relevant for most women is photoaging,” she says.

The most important aspects of a youthful glow are avoiding the sun or wearing sunscreen daily, even in the winter months, and eating to support the cellular health of skin. “You want to eat a phytonutrient-rich diet, which is high in antioxidants,” says Jampolis. “That means eating your fruits and vegetables.” Simple enough!