Regular doses of a common over-the-counter painkiller may lead to a longer, healthier life, researchers have found.
In a study published Thursday in the journal Public Library of Science-Genetics, researchers treated baker’s yeast, worms and flies with ibuprofen and saw that the treatment added about 15 percent more to the species’ lives. The treatment dose was comparable to the recommended human dose, and the results equated to another dozen or so human years of healthy living.
"We first used baker's yeast, which is an established aging model, and noticed that the yeast treated with ibuprofen lived longer," researcher Dr. Michael Polymenis, an AgriLife Research biochemist in College Station, said in a news release. "Then we tried the same process with worms and flies, and saw the same extended lifespan. Plus, these organisms not only lived longer but also appeared healthy."
Healthiness in worms was observed as thrashing a lot and faster pumping when swallowing.
The three-year project showed that ibuprofen interferes with yeast cell’s ability to pick up tryptophan— an amino acid found in every cell of every organism and that is essential for humans, who get it from protein sources. Researchers aren’t sure why the ibuprofen worked, but noted that it’s worth further exploration.
"This study was a proof of principle to show that common, relatively safe drugs in humans can extend the lifespan of very diverse organisms. Therefore, it should be possible to find others like ibuprofen with even better ability to extend lifespan, with the aim of adding healthy years of life in people," Polymenis, who is also a professor in the biochemistry and biophysics department at Texas A&M University, said in the news release.
Ibuprofen was created in England in the early 1960s and first made available by prescription before becoming available over-the-counter in the 1980s. The nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug is used to relieve pain, help with fever and reduce inflammation.
Polymenis collaborated with Dr. Brian Kennedy, president and CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, in Novato, Calif., along with several researchers from Russia and the University of Washington.
According to Kennedy, the Buck Institute’s research is also beginning to identify other drugs that affect aging. The studies were done in his lab after Polymenis reached out, wanting to see how his cell cycle analysis corresponded with the Buck Institute’s aging studies.
"Our institute is interested in finding out why people get sick when they get old. We think that by understanding those processes, we can intervene and find ways to extend human health span, keeping people healthier longer and slowing down aging. That's our ultimate goal,” Kennedy said in the news release.
Looking deeper into the common drugs that target individual diseases may shed light on understanding the aging process, lead study author Chong He, a postdoctoral fellow at Buck Institute, said in the news release.
"Ibuprofen is something that people have been taking for years, and no one actually knew that it can have some benefits for longevity and health span,” he said.
However, consumers should keep in mind that, while widely-used, ibuprofen can have side effects and isn’t for everyone, Josie Znidarsic, DO, integrative medicine specialist at Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute, told FoxNews.com. There is a risk for gastrointestinal issues, such as bleeding ulcers, as well as cardiovascular side effects such as increased clotting, heart attack and stroke.
Znidarsic noted it’s likely that the longevity effect comes from the anti-inflammatory properties of the drug, but that there are healthier ways to lower inflammation without side effects, such as having a healthier diet.
“I don’t think anybody would argue that fact that we know inflammation in the body, which comes from a lot of different sources, is the basis for a lot of chronic health problems, so by controlling that, we would expect to see increased life expectancy … but if we’re not changing those things and just taking ibuprofen, I don’t know if we’re really going to make any headway in that,” Znidarsic said.
“I feel like there are probably a lot of factors that we could change without medicating with risk,” she said.
FoxNews.com’s Nicole Kwan contributed to this report.