Kaya kalpa, the ancient Indian concept of rejuvenation, is being scientifically validated in the lab of a US scientist of Indian origin, who has found a way to reverse age-related wrinkling and hair greying and loss in animal models to move closer to creating an elixir for eternal youth.
Dr Keshav K Singh, professor of genetics, pathology and environmental health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has demonstrated that protecting and boosting the function of the mitochondria, the powerhouse of cells, makes wrinkles disappear and restores hair growth. The study was published in the Nature journal, Cell Death and Disease.
“This phenomenon can be summed up as kaya kalpa. In Vedic literature, “kaya” is described as body and “kalpa” as transformation. Kaya kalpa is a set of therapies that can reverse the physical degeneration caused by age. The therapies can transform old cells to new again. Kaya kalpa is a true science of rejuvenation,” said Singh.
And does he think the study is a step towards creating an elixir for eternal youth? “Yes, absolutely,” is Singh’s succinct reply.
Mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells, producing 90% of the chemical energy the cells need to survive. Mitochondrial function declines with age and is associated with both physical ageing and age-related diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and some cancers.
For the study, Singh added the antibiotic doxycycline to food and drinking water to cause mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) depletion. In four weeks, the mice developed grey hair, hair loss, slow movements and lethargy associated with natural ageing. Wrinkling appeared in four to eight weeks, with females having more severe wrinkling than males. Turning off the mutation restored smooth healthy skin and thick fur that was indistinguishable from healthy mice.
“A decline in mtDNA content and mitochondrial function has been observed in aging humans. Humans lose about four copies of mtDNA every 10 years, it is also attributed to death from all causes,” said Singh. “We created mouse models to mimic these conditions to show that decline in mitochondrial function leads to the development of wrinkles and loss of hair. The main finding is that by restoring mitochondrial function, we can reverse skin wrinkles to normal healthy skin and also regain hair growth,” he said. Little change was seen in other organs, suggesting mitochondria played a bigger role in skin ageing compared to other tissues.
The antibiotic doxycycline was used because it inactivates the enzyme to replicate the DNA. Antibiotics, which are widely overused and misused in India, damage mtDNA, confirmed Singh. “Most antibiotics interfere with mitochondrial protein translation and mitochondrial ribosome biosynthesis. Long-term use will affect mitochondrial function and cause toxicity,” he said.
“Chemicals such as benzopyrene or agents such as UV also induce depletion as well as mutations in mtDNA, resulting in mitochondrial dysfunction and ageing. Indeed, people who are exposed to sun more often show increased wrinkling in exposed areas. Many cancer drugs are mtDNA depleters,” he said.
Singh and his team are developing ways to boost mitochondrial health and fight disease and ageing. “We are developing — in fact, have some in hand — agents that can restore mtDNA content and mitochondrial function to boost mitobiogenesis. These agents will serve as drugs to boost mitochondrial health,” he said.
Leading a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and a healthy diet, keeps mitochondria healthy. “There are about 10 genes that are known to maintain mtDNA contents and individual polymorphic variation in these gene effects mtDNA content in different people. Exercise boosts mitobiogenesis, while an inactive life style and external factors that influence aging, such as skin wrinkles that develop from excess sun or long-term smoking cause mitochondrial damage and dysfunction and accelerates ageing,” said Singh.