Do longevity supplements work?

Emerging technology lets supplement brands measure the efficacy of longevity products in clinical trials.

The mythical allure of eternal youth has captivated the masses throughout history. From the writings of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, to Ponce de Leon’s quest for the Fountain of Youth, to 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, humanity has sought to overcome aging and mortality for all of human history. The search for eternal life has even permeated the tech industry, with elite tech founders like Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, and Peter Thiel allegedly taking an interest in life-extension projects, according to media reports.1

While the life extensionist community represents the more extreme end of the longevity market, there exists ample opportunity for CPG brands that can bring to market credible, research-backed products that can act on biomarkers of aging. Here are some of the trends and developments in this controversial, yet promising, market for supplement brands.

Longevity at the Forefront of Consumers’ Minds

Consumers are increasingly looking for ways to not only extend their lifespans but also maintain health in old age. Gil Blander, PhD, is the cofounder and chief scientific officer of personalized nutrition technology company InsideTracker (Cambridge, MA) and the co-host of the Longevity by Design podcast. Blander says that a growing culture shift is challenging preconceived notions about what aging means, whether aging necessarily leads to a decline in health, and to what extent the fountain of youth is a fiction.

“The research overwhelmingly supports nutrition contributing to longevity,” Blander says. He adds that “Smart and well-considered marketing is definitely the name of the game to build trust and credibility in this space. Brands have a responsibility to maintain and promote a culture of truth.”

The longevity market’s opportunities aren’t just with older consumers, Blander points out. In fact, consumers seem to understand the importance of nutritional interventions beginning earlier in life.

“In a recent survey by Longevity Technology, 31% of respondents identified 20 to 29 as the ideal age to begin [implementing longevity interventions],” Blander explains. “A full 87% of respondents believed longevity interventions should be introduced before age 50.”

His takeaway? “Brands should note that the target consumer is likely not of advanced age.”

Clinical Trials Can Demonstrate Longevity Supplements’ Efficacy

Longevity’s ties to mythology and fantasy fiction can make it seem like a nebulous and difficult-to-measure concept. Consumers themselves may very well dismiss longevity as fiction simply because they associate the concept with sci-fi/fantasy media franchises like Highlander or Marvel’s Eternals. But emerging technology is enabling supplement brands to measure the efficacy of longevity products in clinical trials.

Telomere length tests can establish one’s cellular age by comparing the length of a given consumer’s telomeres to the average telomere length of the general population, says Abdul Alkayali, vice president of sales and marketing for Longevity by Nature (Pauma Valley, CA) and ingredient supplier Certified Nutraceuticals (Pauma Valley, CA). “Telomeres are protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that contain DNA instructions for cell division and function,” Alkayali explains. “As cells divide over time, telomeres shorten. Comparing the length of one person’s telomeres to that of the general population can determine [cellular] age.”

By tracking cellular age over time, Alkayali says, supplement brands can determine if longevity supplements do, in fact, work. Longevity by Nature has been using telomere length to assess the efficacy of its longevity products. One randomized, controlled trial2 examined the effect of Longevity by Nature’s branded Telos95, a blend of antioxidant polyphenols extracted from grapevine (Vitis vinifera)and olive leaf (Olea europaea), on telomere length in 50 healthy subjects between the ages of 30 and 60. Subjects were randomly assigned to receive either one or two 65-mg capsules of Telos95 per day for six months (as Group A and Group B, respectively). This trial, conducted by Princeton Consumer Research (St. Petersburg, FL), was sponsored by the ingredient manufacturer, Certified Nutraceuticals. Longevity by Nature is a Certified Nutraceuticals–affiliated company that markets Certified Nutraceuticals ingredients through a line of retail supplements.

All study subjects provided blood samples at baseline and at study conclusion. These samples were analyzed for average telomere length via Cawthon qPCR assay, and each subject was assigned a TeloYear age based on their telomere length in relation to the average telomere length of other participants of the same age and gender. Telomere length was measured according to T/S ratio, the ratio of telomeric DNA to the single copy beta-globin gene.

After six months, both groups exhibited an increase in average telomere length and a decrease in average TeloYear age. Group A decreased their average TeloYear age by 7.43 years, while Group B decreased their average TeloYear age by 8.52 years. Both groups experienced at least a 0.1-point increase on the T/S ratio, indicating telomere lengthening.

Supplement consumers favor science-based products, Alkayali says, which is why conducting and highlighting clinical research is critical for longevity brands. The science of longevity and antiaging is still in its infancy, he says, and while promising research has already been conducted, there is still much more to be discovered.

Justifying Consumer Investment Requires Proven Efficacy

Longevity supplements can often seem “too good to be true,” and the high cost of these products can often cause consumer hesitation. That’s why Tom Weldon, founder and CEO of Ponce de Leon Health (Fernandina Beach, FL), says companies in this space should find ways to help consumers measure supplement efficacy themselves. Ponce de Leon Health’s Rejuvant, a branded supplement containing a proprietary combination of calcium and alpha-ketoglutarate called LifeAKG, is packaged with two DNA methylation tests that consumers can take at home.

“Allowing the customer to test-try-test the product offers a way to demonstrate efficacy, which is why a Rejuvant customer on subscription is supplied with two saliva-based tests,” Weldon says. “[They take] one test before starting the product, and the second after seven months.”

One 2021 single-arm trial3 conducted by TruMe and Ponce de Leon Health, and partially funded by the National University of Singapore, examined the effects of Rejuvant on biological age, as measured via DNA methylation testing, in 28 male and 14 female subjects aged 43 to 72. Subjects were assessed for biological age at baseline and on study conclusion using the TruAge test from TruMe (South San Francisco, CA), along with Sanger DNA sequencing. All subjects were non-randomly assigned to receive two Rejuvant tablets per day for 4 to 10 months. Male subjects received the Rejuvant Men’s Formula consisting of 500 mg of calcium alpha-ketoglutarate, 450 mg of vitamin A, and 95 mg of calcium per tablet. Female subjects received the Rejuvant Women’s Formula containing 12.5 mg of vitamin D, 95 mg of calcium, and 500 mg of calcium alpha-ketoglutarate per tablet.

After 7 weeks, the female subjects’ mean biological age decreased by 6.43 years, while the male subjects’ mean biological age decreased by 7.85 years. By the end of the trial, the group was 8.31 years biologically younger than their chronological age. While this trial lacked a placebo group and is limited by a small sample size, its results warrant further research.

Trials like this are how longevity brands spark consumer interest and overcome doubt, Weldon says. He notes that while longevity products can sometimes require expensive investments, there are ways to save on production costs without sacrificing quality or efficacy.

“The costs of developing effective longevity products are high, resulting in a premium-priced product,” Weldon explains. “Using GRAS components reduces development time and cost, thus allowing a price point that can appeal to a mass market.”

Longevity Market Sheds Myth for Science

Longevity supplements are becoming more advanced and science-driven, with brands in this space investing in clinical trials and establishing biomarkers that can approximate cellular health. However, this market is still young, and consumer perception may associate longevity products with a fringe group of high-profile, immortality-seeking life extensionists. For longevity brands, investing in high-quality research to ground claims in science is a matter of life and death.

References

  1. Shead S. “Silicon Valley’s Quest to Live Forever Could Benefit Humanity as a Whole – Here’s Why.CNBC. Published online September 21, 2021.
  2. Lopes AP et al. “A randomized-controlled clinical study of Telos95, a novel antioxidative dietary supplement, on the shortening of telomere length in healthy volunteers.” Journal of Society for Development in New Net Environment in B&H, vol. 13, no. 1 (2019): 38-42
  3. Demidenko O et al. “Rejuvant, a potential life-extending compound formulation with alpha-ketoglutarate and vitamins, conferred an average 8 year reduction in biological aging, after an average of 7 months of use, in the TruAge DNA methylation test.Aging, vol. 13, no. 22 (November 30, 2021): 24485-24499