Research Highlights | Published:

Cardiovascular biology

Food chemical protects the heart

Nature volume 539, page 333 (17 November 2016) | Download Citation

A compound found naturally in legumes, grains and mature cheese helps rodents to maintain a healthy heart.

The chemical, spermidine, extends the lifespans of yeast, flies and worms by promoting autophagy, a cellular process that degrades and recycles old components of the cell and toxic products. Frank Madeo at the University of Graz in Austria and his collaborators found that aged mice that regularly drank water containing spermidine had improved heart function compared to untreated mice of the same age, and that the compound lowered blood pressure in rats prone to developing heart failure. Spermidine reversed various age-related mechanical and metabolic changes in the heart cells of treated animals.

The chemical seemed to exert its effects through autophagy, because it did not benefit mice with a genetic defect that impairs this process in heart-muscle cells.

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