Thursday, September 21, 2023

Harvard Health Ad Watch: Mitochondria do a lot for you – what can you do for them?

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Have you ever seen an ad for a product that sounds great and wondered if it really is that good? This happened to me recently. “How do you take care of your mitochondria?” asked an advertiser. Well, there is one question that I don’t get asked every day. And this is one for which I had no answer.

Your cells are aging: can supplements keep them young?

This ad and an accompanying website describe their products this way:

  • “A revolutionary range of nutritional solutions”
  • supplements that “work in harmony with your body’s natural processes to rewrite the rules of cellular aging”
  • “Helps activate the renewal of mitochondria in muscles”
  • “Targets age-related changes that occur inside cells”
  • “Renews the natural capacity of cells to produce energy on a daily basis”
  • “Presents cellular nutrients studied in more than 20 clinical trials in humans”

And what is this miracle product? It’s food! I laugh. These statements come from advertisements for Celltrient supplements made by Nestlé Health Science. Yes, famous candy bar makers offer supplements to improve your health and slow aging!

The buzz about mitochondria and cellular health

The claims focus on two main areas of health that have been the subject of extensive research at the cellular level in recent years: aging and energy production.

You may remember from high school biology that almost all human cells have a nucleus that contains our genetic blueprint (DNA). But do you remember a lot about mitochondria? These so-called power plants in the cell convert nutrients into energy. They are essential to the health of every cell – and the health of the tissues and organs of the person in which those cells reside.

When mitochondria are not functioning normally, debilitating, sometimes life-threatening conditions can occur, such as mitochondrial myopathies and a number of eye diseases.

A huge amount of research in recent years suggests that mitochondria

  • play a key role in the aging process and in most age-related diseases
  • are vital for cellular health, including regulating how nutrients enter individual cells
  • contain DNA that is easily damaged with age, is subject to mutations and has limited repair capacity
  • play a key role in immune function.

These findings have led to speculation that treatments to maintain or improve mitochondrial and cellular health could lead to ways of slowing aging.

What ads do – and the rest of the story

It is true, as stated above, that mitochondria are essential to the vital process of cellular energy production. And a growing body of evidence suggests that mitochondria are key players in aging and the development of chronic disease.

But the rest of the claims made by the makers of Celltrient must be taken with a strong dose of skepticism. The evidence behind them is scarce. Like all unproven over-the-counter supplements and remedies, Celltrient carries this FDA required disclaimer: “These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. “

What about the 20 human studies mentioned? Well, this refers to research on one or more of the ingredients found in these products, but not on the products themselves. These studies cannot show that the claims made in the ad are true in humans.

For example, a study shows that an ingredient in Celltrient – niacin, a form of vitamin B3 – is absorbed into the bloodstream. In addition, it increases blood levels of a substance that the mitochondria need to function properly, called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD).

Sounds awesome? Keep in mind that taking a specific vitamin supplement may be unnecessary if you already have enough of it in your body. So it’s not clear from the study that Celltrient actually “renewed” or “replenished” the mitochondria in the cells of the study participants. More importantly, there is no evidence that these supplements make people healthier or feel better, slow aging, or provide any other health benefit.

Considerable cost and lack of key information

The promotions also don’t mention the cost. The prices on the product’s website range from around $ 60 to $ 130 per month. And there is no mention of possible side effects, interactions with other drugs, or that some people are more likely to benefit from them than others.

Finally, these ads don’t tell you what your other options are for mitochondrial health, assuming you are concerned. For example, regular exercise may be the best treatment for mitochondrial aging.

The bottom line

Advertisements like those for Celltrient products are commonplace. You will see supplements promoted for heart health, joint pain, memory loss, and a host of other conditions. Some have more scientific support than others. But beware of advertisements for drugs or supplements that promise vague and massive health benefits without real proof that the product works. A statement that it is “backed by science” – without an explanation – is not enough.

For the health of cells and mitochondria, you can accept the unproven claims of these advertisements and spend thousands of dollars each year on Celltrient products. Perhaps future studies will even prove that these supplements work. Or you can try your luck on a more conventional source of nutrients that mitochondria need: food. I guess I wasn’t kidding after all.

Follow me on twitter @RobShmerling

The post office Harvard Health Ad Watch: Mitochondria do a lot for you – what can you do for them? appeared first on Harvard Health Blog.


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