The compounds that make poop stink are probably not high on the list of study subjects for aspiring chemists, but a new discovery published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences might soon change that. It turns out that some of the more pungent chemicals to come out of our colons might actually be super substances that have the power to dramatically increase our healthy lifespans, reports Gizmodo.
Yep, the fountain of youth might turn out to be your toilet.
The compound of note here is known as indole, and it's produced by bacteria that live in our guts. In small quantities, it can actually have a pleasant odor, but in larger batches it becomes overwhelmingly foul. For the study, researchers exposed a wide range of organisms — including nematode worms, fruit flies and mice — to indole, usually through ingestion. (Hopefully they plugged the poor critters' noses in the process.) Just about all of them that received the indole remained free of age-related health complications over a greater fraction of their healthy lifespans.
Scientists aren't yet sure exactly how indole performs its miracles, but it vastly extended several standard measures of healthy lifespan in the animals, including physical ability, response to stress, and reproductive capacities. The health benefits were present in both young and old animals.
Though human trials have yet to be performed, similar results can be expected given the wide swath of organisms that showed positive effects.
“These data raise the possibility of developing therapeutics based on microbiota-derived indole or its derivatives to extend healthspan and reduce frailty in humans,” conclude the researchers in the study.
It's important to keep in mind that the study only demonstrated improvements to organisms' healthspans, which is distinct from their lifespans. In other words, indole doesn't seem to increase lifespan, which is a measure of the longevity of a life, but it does delay age-related diseases, which means that organisms live a longer period of their lifespans in good health.
So when can you expect indole pills to start showing up on shelves in your local health food store? Remember that human trials have not begun yet, so it may be a while. In the meantime, best not to attempt any of your own experiments, especially considering the source of the substance. But this is encouraging news, and it's further evidence that the next health frontier is likely to be found in the complex, stinky world of our guts.