Researchers from the McGill University have found the average lifespan of Drosophila melanogaster (fruit flies) to increase by 60% on supplementation with a mixture of Triphala, an Ayurvedic herbal supplement, and probiotics made from 3 strains of probiotic bacteria from Lactobacillus / Bifidobacterium geni. Not only that, this synbiotic treatment is found to have significant positive effect on various oxidative stress markers, insulin resistance and some major metabolic pathways in the subject animals.
The complete research paper has been published in the journal Scientific Reports, and can be read along with its news release here.
Why is this significant?
‘Microbiome’, or the mostly harmless bacterial colonies living inside the human body, has been increasingly found to influence quality of life in scientific experiments across the last few years. This study has not only demonstrated its positive applications in an animal model, but also invoked interest in herbal supplements like Triphala that can in turn, influence the action of these bacteria. Fruit flies being very similar to mammals in respect of the concerned metabolic pathways, these results point strongly towards potential applications in human gerontology and preventive anti-ageing medicine.
How does Ayurveda figure out in this?
Triphala, a mixture of Amla (Indian gooseberry), Haritaki (Indian myrobalan) and Bibhitak (Beleric myrobalan), is a widely used Ayurvedic supplement, which has been described as ‘Rasayana‘, or anti-ageing, in the ancient texts. A number of advanced anti-ageing Rasayana formulations are made by processing Triphala with other herbs by various methods. Though there’s little scientific study done on these till date, travelogues of ancient and medieval travellers talk of unusually high longevity in regions where Rasayana supplements were religiously consumed by the people. The present study adds supportive evidence to the age-old anecdotes, and makes a case for further detailed study, including human clinical trials, to be conducted for testing and validating their efficacy.
The probiotics used in the study were three strains of bacteria from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria geni, which are found in a number of herbs / food substances, most commonly in yogurt (Dahi) which is used in a number of fermented preparations in Ayurveda. Out of mere trial-and-error based experience, it seems that Ayurvedic formulations have been harnessing the utility of probiotic bacteria since ages.
Parallels in Ayurvedic research – some passing thoughts
It should be noted that the researchers in the present study used specific laboratory-made and standardised cultures of only 3 probiotic species in an equal ratio, while natural farm-fresh yogurt could contain any number of different lactobacilli in a different ratio mix. This is where geographic speciation too could be playing a signifcant role, with yogurt from different regions of the world containing different strains of the bacteria, possibly lending credibility to the often quoted and debated proposition that native Indian cows’ products have different and superior medicinal properties. What kind of bacteria proliferate in a food substance on fermentation depends on the specific compounds digestible by those bacteria (called ‘prebiotics’) present in that foodstuff. So, the prebiotic composition of the milk from different varieties of livestock could dictate what kind of probiotic bacteria proliferate better in the yogurt made from it. That, in my view, opens a Pandora’s Box of possibilities and bioresource capitalization opportunities.
It also creates venues to harness the power of biotechnology for creating modern Ayurvedic formulations with stronger efficacy. For example, how would it be if we could create standardised yogurt starter cultures containing a calculated mix of such beneficial probiotic bacteria, and use it in manufacturing the Ayurvedic medicines like Takra-basti, Panchamrita and Takrarishta, instead of any random farm-fresh yogurt? Ayurvedic pharma researchers need to study and verify the position as to this aspect.
Also, herbs that are used in Rasayana preparations but don’t contain any biocompounds with anti-aging properties in the face of it, could be investigated for presence of probiotic bacteria which could prove the intended reason of their addition to those preparations. Such identification can help substantially to improve scientific credibility and efficacy of those preparations.
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