The humble pomegranate may old the secret to a long and healthy life.
Scientists say the Middle Eastern fruit contains a ‘miracle’ ingredient that strengthens ageing muscles and extends life.
With experiments in worms and mice producing results that ‘are nothing sort of amazing’, they are now testing the fountain of youth supplement on people.
Even something as simple as keeping muscles young could reduce the number of falls among the elderly and increase independence, allowing people to live in their own homes for longer.
The Swiss scientists said: ‘We believe this research is a milestone in anti-ageing efforts.’
Their excitement centers on the pomegranate’s ability to keep mitochondria, the tiny 'battery packs' that power our cells, charged up.
Normally, mitochondria run down with age, making them less effective or even toxic and, it is thought, leading to muscle weakening and frailty.
However, chemicals in pomegranates are turned into a compound called urolithin A by the bugs that live in the gut.
The urolithin A then helps the body recycle these drained battery packs, recharging cells and holding ageing at bay.
In one experiment, worms given urolithin A lived almost 50 per cent longer.
In another, elderly mice were able to run 42 per cent further after just six weeks of treatment.
Trials in people are underway and, given that the supplement works in species as diverse as worms and mice, the researchers are very hopeful they will be a success.
Pomegranates are already credited with a host of health benefits, including lowering blood pressure and strengthening bones and its juice is a popular breakfast drink.
One of the world's oldest fruits, the pomegranate has been a symbol of fertility, death and eternity.
Some believe the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was a pomegranate rather than an apple.
But, before you rush out and stock up on the cartons of juice or bags of pomegranates, you should be aware that they will not necessarily hold back the hands of time.
This is because the amount of urolithin A made after eating a pomegranate varies widely, depending on which bugs someone has in their gut. And some of us just don’t make any at all.
With this in mind, the researchers, from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne have founded a company that makes urolithin A capsules.
Human trials are underway, with 30 people taking one a day with breakfast.
If successful, the capsules could be marketed as a supplement to keep muscles strong in those aged 50-plus.
Researcher Patrick Aebischer said: ‘It's a completely natural substance, and its effect is powerful and measurable.’
Co-author Johan Auwerz said: ‘The nutritional approach opens up territory that traditional pharma has never explored.
‘It’s a true shift in the scientific paradigm.’
Those who are willing to take a gamble, but don’t like pomegranates, should know that walnuts, raspberries and blackberries all contain the miracle ingredient, just in lower amounts.