Anti-aging supplements are nothing new. The promise of youth can be found in pills and serums on the shelves of any pharmacy. Preventative health is big business— with the U.S. supplement market ringing in close to $30 billion.
One of the latest additions to the anti-aging market is a prominent player in the field of gerontology. For decades, Lenny Guarente has been the head of MIT’s Paul F. Glenn Center for the Science of Aging. More recently, he’s the co-founder of Elysium, a startup that sells only one product: Basis.
You may have noticed Basis ads popping up in your Facebook feed lately. And if the sleek, simple design doesn’t get you, Guarente hopes his research rooted in a class of gene proteins called sirtuins and a molecule NAD, will convince you.
“Sirtuins will affect aging in every living system, including people. And the basic trick is the more active they are, the slower the aging process,” says Guarente
That’s where Basis comes in. One ingredient is considered a more potent form of resveratrol, which became a popular supplement a few years ago. The other main ingredient, Guarente says, replicates the NAD molecule that’s responsible for activating sirtuins. Basis claims to detoxify cells and repair DNA—in other words, give us more stamina, sleep better, even improve cognitive function. Here’s the kicker— the compounds they use are concentrated forms of molecules found in blueberries, grapes and milk.
“The way we boost NAD involves natural products that are found in food. And there's a lot of data-- preclinical data, that says each of these compounds is able to deliver health benefits to animals.” Guarente said.
Guarente and his investors were so confident in how mice responded to these concentrated compounds, they launched Basis before doing human trials, which concerns some critics, like bioethicist, Art Caplan.
“I’m a little worried that we’ve got heavy duty science marketing for a product that isn’t quite ready to support it,” Caplan said. “I’m not saying it’s not working-- not saying it could never get there but there is a lot of heavy breathing around the scientific endorsement, if you will, of how this is going without, ‘Hey, let’s see some human trials already.’”
Several years ago, the research of Harvard scientist, David Sinclair, showed that resveratrol, which is found in red wine, showed promise in lengthening the lifespan of mice. What followed was a resveratrol supplement boom, however, later studies failed to produce similar results. More recently, companies like ChromaDex and Epigeneres are targeting sirtuins to develop anti-aging drugs.
Since Elysium is using natural compounds, the FDA isn’t obligated to step in as they would with a pharmaceutical drug, however, Guarente insists the company is committed to conducting rigorous, scientific studies. They recently wrapped up its first human trial, and they’re just starting to crunch the data.
“We’re going to continue to test. And we’re going to look at the data and see where the data leads us,” said Guarente. “So maybe Basis will be really good for AB and C but not so good for XY and Z. But we’ll find out.”
Guarente has been taking Basis for over two years now, and candidly admits that he doesn’t know if it works. He says he takes Basis as a preventative measure.
“Will it make people live longer?” Guarente said. “Who knows, and frankly, I don't care. The aim is to improve health and to keep people healthy.”