Beta-alanine isn't just a respected ergogenic supplement for athletes. It's starting to look like a longevity supplement too. Molecular biologists at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles have found indications that beta-alanine can mitigate the negative effects of glucose.
The human body is not built to take large amounts of glucose. The higher your glucose level, the more advanced glycation end products [AGEs] your body produces. AGEs are compounds that speed up the aging process.
One of the first steps in this process is the build up of compounds like methylglyoxal [structural formula below left]. Methylglyoxal is released when cells convert glucose into energy. It's toxic anyway, but also causes more of the advanced glycation end product carboxymethyllysine [CML, structural formula below right] to be synthesised. AGEs attach themselves to amino acids in tissues and form structures that the body cannot get rid of. As a result of this, organs gradually start to lose their ability to function.
The researchers wanted to know whether carnosine, a dipeptide that cells make from beta-alanine, can slow down this process. They did experiments on the bacteria Escherichia coli, which they exposed to a high enough concentration of glucose [GLU] to boost the formation of AGEs and induce the death of the bacteria. The E. coli that got carnosine too were less likely to die.
The addition of carnosine [CAR] to the bacteria reduced the production of the AGE carboxymethyllysine [CML]. When the researchers exposed the E. coli bacteria to methylglyoxal, carnosine made the compound less toxic.
British-Russian researchers, who showed in animal experiments a decade ago that carnosine extends life expectancy, call carnosine a 'geroprotector'. They weren't sure how carnosine works, but the Americans believe that their study has at least helped to elucidate part of the mechanism.