5 Nobel prize winners back $50 per month health pill that fights aging

5 Nobel prize winners back $50 per month health pill that fights aging

By Graham Templeton Feb. 7, 2015 10:35 am basis head

A new dietary supplement called Basis is making large, familiar claims, but it’s getting some attention due to some large, familiar names: five Nobel laureates, to be exact. With two Chemistry and three Medicine prize winners among the company’s senior members, these seemingly cliche supplement claims seem to warrant a second look.

Basis, from the biomed startup Elysium Health, asks for $50 per month to promote “improved metabolic health.” So, what in the heck does that mean?

Nothing, really. We can define improved metabolic health as the metabolism of cells that live longer than other cells, but this is such a blunt idea that it’s impossible to actually study. The fact is that Elysium doesn’t really claim to understand the precise specifics of how their active ingredients lead to increased duration of youthful traits in aging lab animals. They have simply identified ways of giving the (animal) body a shot of some of the molecules it uses most widely, in the most vital roles, for overall cellular function.

Blueberries are known to be a good source of pterostilbene, as well.

One of their molecules is a precursor to the wide-ranging fuel molecule NAD+. If you remember 11th grade biology, you’ll recall that the most ubiquitous fuel molecule is ATP, so providing the basis for this more specialized actor allows them some small measure of specificity in its effects. In particular, NAD+ partially powers the production of ATP itself, as well as a host of important regulatory functions. The point is really that the body can make more ATP from just about anything you give it, whereas NAD-based molecules use the vitamin niacin, which must be ingested. In terms of promoting a meaningless goal like “metabolic health,” this is about as good a molecule as you could ask for.

The other active ingredient is called pterostilbene, and very little is known about it. It’s a powerful anti-oxidant, and excitingly it seems to be able to pass through the blood-brain barrier and affect our neural health. This one likely has as diffuse an effect as the NAD+ precursor, basically grabbing and neutralizing damaged molecules before they cause too much so-called “oxidative stress” on the cell. This, in turn, lets the cell focus on living to the best of its ability, and presumably helps organs stay healthy longer. Pterostilbene also acts as an activator of certain other gene-activators, meaning it has some blunt control over cell function, though very little is known about the specifics.

So, this is a pretty high profile supplement to say the least. Most supplements get little regard from real medical professionals, mostly due to a complete inability to enforce any standard for the word’s actual meaning. If I drink water, I have supplemented my diet with water — so long as I don’t claim anything demonstrably false about the effects of water, its status as a supplement can’t really be denied. Water is cleansing! It carries significant amounts of the minerals and vitamins your body needs. It hydrates your cells and promotes good metabolic health. These are all true statements.

What are you worrying about? It’s from a research center!

So, we should wonder why so many Nobel laureates are signed on, here. The research on these molecules is impressive in rodents, but that’s been true for countless medicines in the past. What is it about this project that seems to have so many insiders convinced? It’s an open question, because the company certainly doesn’t have any secret human data they’re keeping to themselves; in this, Elysium is not so much better off than the average science aficionado. They know as much as we do: it’s quite promising in lab animals, and it’s very safe for chronic consumption. As with so many supplements, the strongest argument still seems to be, “Why not?”

If the claims about these health effects could be proven, they would be selling Basis for a much, much higher price as a medicine. What they have right now is some very compelling animal data and a whole lot of name recognition, and the supplement market offers them an easy outlet for that sort of product. That’s almost certainly going to be enough to earn them some success with Basis, but it’ll only be after years on the market and in use by humans that scientists could ever credibly get on board.

Leave a Reply