If there were a pill you could take to live longer, wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t we all?
Well, now there’s a dietary supplement on the market that was developed by a famous scientist—from MIT, no less—that supposedly slows aging. It’s called Basis. So we decided to take a hard look at it. Is it really a fountain of youth?
THE BASICS ABOUT BASIS
You may see some wild claims about the Basis pill in the coming months. So here’s what you need to know to really understand it…
It simulates the benefits of eating less. When animals are underfed—given an adequate diet but one with about 20% or 30% fewer calories than normal—they live longer. We humans could try to eat less, too, but it’s tough to sustain when food is widely available—so anti-aging scientists have homed in on compounds called sirtuins that are stimulated during underfeeding. The theory is that sirtuins—which are proteins that protect mitochondria, tiny energy factories in each of our cells—are responsible for the longevity effect.
It’s based on science—mostly in animals. Basis, marketed by a company called Elysium Health, contains two active ingredients that have been shown in animal studies to stimulate the body’s production of sirtuins…
- Nicotinamide riboside (NR)—250 mg. Your body uses NR to make a coenzyme called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide or NAD+. (Stay with us!) We have less NAD+ in our bodies as we grow older, and it’s a hot area of research for scientists who study aging. In one new mouse study, for example, published in Cell Metabolism, boosting NAD+ stimulated energy metabolism, prevented weight gain and improved insulin sensitivity, eye function and bone density. (The study didn’t track whether the mice lived longer, however.) NR, also being studied to protect against hearing loss, is found in tiny amounts in many foods, including edamame (young green soy beans) and broccoli.
- Pterostilbene (PT+)—50 mg. Pterostilbene is similar to resveratrol, a compound found in grapes (and wine) that has been studied for its anti-aging and disease-prevention potential, including for Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis—but PT+ is more bioavailable and in some ways more powerful. In animal studies, PT+ has had biological effects that may protect against cancer, neurological disease, inflammation, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It may lower blood pressure and body weight, although some studies suggest that it may also raise cholesterol levels. It’s found in tiny amounts in grapes and berries, especially blueberries.
Leading scientists developed it. The scientist behind Elysium Health and Basis is the well-known and well-respected biologist Leonard Guarente, PhD, who has decades of research in aging under his belt. He runs a lab that studies the biology of aging at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Elysium Health’s scientific board is packed with other big names in science and health, including six Nobel Prize winners.
It’s probably safe. As a dietary supplement, Basis isn’t regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration, so it didn’t need to undergo human safety studies before going on the market. But the safety research to date has been reassuring. According to anti-aging expert Michael Fossel, MD, PhD, who is not involved with Elysium Health or Basis, “I’m not aware of any safety concerns—and there may be none, but you never know.”
It’ll cost you a pretty penny. Basis is available only online through the company’s website. You can buy a single bottle—a one-month supply of the pills, which are taken twice a day—for $60. If you opt for an annual subscription, the monthly cost goes down to $40, or $480 per year.
BUT…WILL BASIS REALLY HELP YOU LIVE LONGER?
We knew you’d ask that question. We suspect you know the answer, too—no one really knows. There’s no scientific evidence that Basis works in humans. Elysium Health is studying the short-term effects of the pill in people—on body weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and more—and other human trials are planned on the active ingredients (in Japan, for example), but there are no published results yet. To be fair, it’s challenging to study a longevity pill in humans, especially because we live pretty long anyway, so you can’t expect actual longevity results for decades. But studies can find out whether Basis reduces risk factors for chronic disease, and we’ll know that in the next few years.
Dr. Fossel, for one, isn’t convinced that it will actually help us live longer. Yes, we lose NAD+ as we age, he explained, but he doesn’t believe that simply pouring more of it into our cells is likely to keep us on this planet longer. “Sirtuins are just part of the longevity puzzle,” Dr. Fossel said. He believes a better target to get at the root causes of aging is the telomere—the protective “cap” on our chromosomes that shorten with age. Here’s why: “If I take a young cell, it’s operating very nicely, but as it gets older, the pattern of gene expression changes, and that’s modulated by the telomere,” he said. Telomeres themselves don’t cause aging, but they’re the most “upstream” target that’s currently within our grasp. Unfortunately, scientists still are many years away from safely and effectively being able to fiddle with telomere length and gene expression patterns in humans to extend life. “There is nothing on the market that is a miracle drug at this point,” he said.
So go ahead and buy Basis if you want to—and can afford it. It’s unlikely that it will hurt you, it may prime your mitochondria to work a little better, and it might reduce your risk for chronic disease. Whether it’s a longevity pill is something we won’t know—for ages.
If you are being treated for any health condition, let your health-care provider know that you’re taking this supplement so you can be monitored for “the usual suspects,” such as lipids (including cholesterol), liver function, complete blood count and blood pressure. According to Elysium, users report that they sleep better and have more energy and that their hair and nails grow faster—but that’s purely anecdotal, of course. Concluded Dr. Fossel, “I think it probably has about as much efficacy as a good exercise program, a reasonable diet and a safe lifestyle.” It is not, of course, a substitute for those things.