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Senolytics – Taking Out The Trash Might Keep You Fit And Healthy

Image of people running.Image of people running.

From around age 40, we start to lose muscle mass due to various aging processes. One of these processes is the accumulation of senescent cells. Senescent cells are simply cells that have become damaged or have reached their maximum number of divisions.

Normally, such a cell is shut down by a kind of self-destruct program, making it ready to be disposed of by the immune system. However, as the immune system ages, it stops cleaning house properly, leaving many of these senescent cells in place.

This would not be such a big deal, but senescent cells actually send out toxic inflammatory signals that block tissue regeneration. This compromises the formation and repair of muscle tissue [1-2].

Some researchers suggest that removing senescent cells could potentially lead to better performance and extending your peak, allowing you to enjoy sports and remain competitive for longer.

Potential Health Benefits

In pre-clinical studies, there have been some interesting results involving cardiovascular health and performance. Tests have shown that compared to control mice left to age normally, treated mice had significantly improved vascular health in older age [3-4].

Perhaps even more exciting is the discovery that this therapy can also have an impact on heart disease. So, reducing senescent cells could be a route to better cardiovascular health and improved fitness as we get older [5].

Compounds that can remove senescent cells are known as senolytics; this video shows how they work:

Isn’t this like steroids?

Steroids are drugs that mimic certain natural hormones that regulate and control how the body works and develops. Anabolic steroids are often used for sports, mainly because they are similar to the male hormone testosterone, and they can improve endurance and performance while stimulating muscle growth. Some people take anabolic steroids to help build muscles or to improve how they perform at sports, such as running and cycling. However, using steroids is known to carry a variety of health risks.

Removing senescent cells from the body is nothing like this. It just helps the body to clear out the junk it struggles with as we age and to optimize its natural repair functions.

Your body is designed to maintain a delicate balance known as homeostasis, but, as you age, that balance is gradually lost; what science is trying to do is help you to keep that balance and peak performance for longer.

The clues are already in nature

You have likely heard the phrase “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”, but there could be more truth to this saying than you might think. Quercetin, one of the compounds that some studies suggest can remove senescent cells, is naturally found in apples and other fruits and vegetables [6-7].

An apple contains around 4.4 milligrams of quercetin per 100 grams. With a medium-sized apple being typically around 150 grams, it could contain up to 10 milligrams of quercetin. However, to get a dose similar to that used in these studies for health purposes, you would need to eat 50 apples a day!

Obviously, unless you really like apples a lot, this is completely impractical. This is why researchers have extracted pure quercetin from these foods, and it can be obtained cheaply as a dietary supplement with an effective and safe dosage.

So, there could be some truth in the old saying about apples, after all.

Improving your body’s natural balance to maintain health

That said, there is always room for improvement. What science is doing now is investigating why these natural substances help your body maintain balance and finding ways to improve upon this.

The hope is that the longer your body can maintain homeostasis, the longer you can enjoy your favorite sports and hobbies and benefit from an independent and active life.

As is the case in science, there are, of course, no certainties; more studies need to be conducted before we can be sure if these results will translate. However, some senolytics will be entering human clinical trials in the near future, so answers should not be too far behind.

Companies like Unity Biotech, Oisin Biotechnology, and Cellage are busy developing improved versions of these first-pass therapies to make them even more effective and safe.

Hopefully, we can all look forward to a healthier life thanks to progress like this. Only time will tell.


[1] Baker, D. J., Wijshake, T., Tchkonia, T., LeBrasseur, N. K., Childs, B. G., Van De Sluis, B., … & van Deursen, J. M. (2011). Clearance of p16Ink4a-positive senescent cells delays ageing-associated disorders. Nature, 479(7372), 232-236.

[2] Sousa-Victor, P., Gutarra, S., García-Prat, L., Rodriguez-Ubreva, J., Ortet, L., Ruiz-Bonilla, V., … & Perdiguero, E. (2014). Geriatric muscle stem cells switch reversible quiescence into senescence. Nature, 506(7488), 316-321.

[3] Zhu, Y., Tchkonia, T., Pirtskhalava, T., Gower, A. C., Ding, H., Giorgadze, N., … & O’Hara, S. P. (2015). The Achilles’ heel of senescent cells: from transcriptome to senolytic drugs. Aging cell, 14(4), 644-658.

[4] Roos, C. M., Zhang, B., Palmer, A. K., Ogrodnik, M. B., Pirtskhalava, T., Thalji, N. M., … & Zhu, Y. (2016). Chronic senolytic treatment alleviates established vasomotor dysfunction in aged or atherosclerotic mice. Aging Cell, 15(5), 973-977.

[5] Childs, B. G., Baker, D. J., Wijshake, T., Conover, C. A., Campisi, J., & van Deursen, J. M. (2016). Senescent intimal foam cells are deleterious at all stages of atherosclerosis. Science, 354(6311), 472-477.

[6] Zhu, Y., Tchkonia, T., Pirtskhalava, T., Gower, A. C., Ding, H., Giorgadze, N., … & O’Hara, S. P. (2015). The Achilles’ heel of senescent cells: from transcriptome to senolytic drugs. Aging cell, 14(4), 644-658.

[7] Hollman, P. C., van Trijp, J. M., Buysman, M. N., Mengelers, M. J., de Vries, J. H., & Katan, M. B. (1997). Relative bioavailability of the antioxidant flavonoid quercetin from various foods in man. FEBS letters, 418(1-2), 152-156.

About the author

Steve Hill

Steve serves on the LEAF Board of Directors and is the Editor in Chief, coordinating the daily news articles and social media content of the organization. He is an active journalist in the aging research and biotechnology field and has to date written over 600 articles on the topic, interviewed over 100 of the leading researchers in the field, hosted livestream events focused on aging, as well as attending various medical industry conferences. His work has been featured in H+ magazine, Psychology Today, Singularity Weblog, Standpoint Magazine, Swiss Monthly, Keep me Prime, and New Economy Magazine. Steve is one of three recipients of the 2020 H+ Innovator Award and shares this honour with Mirko Ranieri – Google AR and Dinorah Delfin – Immortalists Magazine. The H+ Innovator Award looks into our community and acknowledges ideas and projects that encourage social change, achieve scientific accomplishments, technological advances, philosophical and intellectual visions, author unique narratives, build fascinating artistic ventures, and develop products that bridge gaps and help us to achieve transhumanist goals. Steve has a background in project management and administration which has helped him to build a united team for effective fundraising and content creation, while his additional knowledge of biology and statistical data analysis allows him to carefully assess and coordinate the scientific groups involved in the project.
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