A Longevity Supplement with Interesting Origins
If you’re looking for the elusive fountain of youth, eating a whole-food diet and regularly challenging your brain and body won’t make you live forever. But it may increase your lifespan (and your vitality).
There are also a few dietary supplements that act as longevity “cheat sheets.” One of these supplements is spermidine. It has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cell renewal properties.
I won’t beat around the bush. I know spermidine sounds nasty. Truth be told, the compound was first discovered in sperm.
Please don’t click away – I’m not suggesting what you think I’m suggesting.
While the name doesn’t do it any favors, spermidine may slow cellular aging by mimicking the positive effects of fasting and caloric restriction. It’s one of a few anti-aging supplements that Harvard researcher Dr. David Sinclair takes (along with NMN and Resveratrol).
We’ve already written about the 7 Best Spermidine Supplements. Today, we’ll take a deep dive into the science-backed spermidine benefits.
Spermidine is a naturally occurring compound found in all living organisms. It’s a polyamine – an organic molecule with two or more amino groups – which plays a vital role in cell growth, renewal, and homeostasis.
It was first discovered (along with a similar compound called spermine) in semen by a Dutch scientist called Anton Van Leeuwenhoek.
Considered the father of microscopy, Van Leeuwenhoek had to look at his spunk under the microscope (boys will be boys or something). I don’t want to think about how that happened – but thank goodness it did.
This natural polyamine isn’t only concentrated in human sperm; it’s made by nearly every cell of your body. You also get some from your diet, and your gut microbiome (trillions of little critters that line your intestinal tract) makes a small percentage of spermidine.
Your cells synthesize plenty of spermidine when you’re young. But levels decline rapidly as you get older, which may play a role in age-related diseases.
This is where natural spermidine supplements can help. Luckily, there’s no need to scratch through semen to up your levels (please forgive me for that visual). Most supplements use wheat germ. Thank god.
Spermidine may support metabolic health by helping to clear cellular debris from your tissues. It does this by stimulating something called autophagy.
What the heck is autophagy, you may ask.
Well, it’s a Greek word meaning “self-eating.” But I promise it’s not some weird self-cannibalism shit.
Autophagy is a normal physiological process whereby your body scavenges old, damaged cells. It increases the turnover of new cells and recycles proteins and organelles.
Basically, your body digests parts of itself to clean house.
This cellular rejuvenation process happens regularly when you’re young, keeping you disease-free. But as you age, autophagy becomes less efficient. Instead, senescent cells develop to save energy. They don’t follow a normal cell cycle or self-destruct like healthy cells. Without routine autophagy, damaged cells accumulate, creating inflammation and disrupting metabolic function.
It’s like the cleanup crew going on strike and allowing trash to accumulate in your system.
So, can spermidine reverse aging?
Boosting spermidine levels may encourage healthy aging by upregulating autophagy. Studies across several species support this theory.
Plus, evidence from animals suggests spermidine activates mitochondrial biogenesis. Mitochondria produce the energy molecules you need to stay alive. Again, these cellular organelles deteriorate with age. But spermidine may slow this process.
While most studies on life extension use animals, we have human research in this case ( it’s part of what makes spermidine so exciting).
A 15-year population study of people aged 45-84 found those with higher spermidine intake lived, on average, 5.7 years longer.
There are several other promising health benefits of spermidine — let’s explore these now.
Poor cognitive functioning and neurodegeneration are hallmarks of aging. These have huge implications for quality of life. Luckily, plenty of longevity research focuses on slowing down cognitive decline (who doesn’t want a sharper brain at any age?).
Spermidine looks promising for brain health.
First off, by promoting autophagy (remember the cleanup crew), spermidine may clear out some of the toxic gunk that accumulates in your brain and contributes to neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
This randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study found spermidine improved memory performance in elderly people. Another 2020 study confirmed its effect on cognitive performance in older adults with mild dementia.
As someone with a family member going through dementia, I can’t tell you how excited I am about this research.
Oxidative stress and chronic inflammation are the primary precursors for cardiovascular disease – it creates blood vessel damage and lipid oxidation.
Interestingly, population studies have shown diets high in spermidine are cardioprotective. It’s correlated with lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease and associated deaths.
Furthermore, this animal study found spermidine may prevent a buildup of fat within arterial plaques by stimulating autophagy.
We need more human trials looking at spermidine and cardiovascular disease.
Hair loss is another uncomfortable aspect of aging. While it’s more common in men, women also experience thinning hair with age.
Spermidine may slow age-related hair loss caused by genetics or hormonal changes.
Hair follicles are rich in stem cells that constantly self-renew, regulating hair growth. They depend on the polyamine spermidine for rapid growth and development.
This study of 100 healthy men and women found a spermidine-based supplement extends the “anagen phase” in hair follicles. This refers to the active growth phase in the hair shaft, suggesting spermidine stimulates hair growth.
Normal cells follow a life cycle: they grow, divide, and then die. Old, damaged cells are programmed to die in a process called apoptosis.
However, cancer cells don’t follow this cycle. They don’t go through apoptosis. Instead, they go through uncontrollable proliferation, invading tissues and organs.
So, it makes sense that increasing autophagy may reduce cancer risk by clearing out damaged cells.
This population study of postmenopausal women found diets with higher polyamine levels reduced the risk of colorectal cancer.
That said, correlation doesn’t equal causation. There may be other health-promoting behaviors responsible for these results. We need more research before we can make any major claims.
Telomeres are the protective caps on the end of your chromosomes that erode with age. Telomere length is directly related to longevity, with shorter telomeres linked to decreased longevity in animals and humans.
Animal models suggest spermidine may protect telomeres from oxidative stress and slow telomere shortening.
We don’t know if it prevents age-associated telomere shortening in humans, but there is research potential in this area.
Research shows spermidine alters the composition of the trillions of microbes in the digestive tract in favor of those that protect against obesity.
Even more amazingly, this study found it targets visceral fat – the dangerous kind that surrounds organs.
For now, we know spermidine is an anti-obesity agent in mice. However, I’m convinced that this area of research in humans will explode in a few short years.
Spermidine is widely available from plant sources. This may be why eating a Mediterranean diet high in plant-based foods (and thus high in spermidine) is associated with longevity and a lower risk of chronic disease.
The best sources of dietary spermidine are soybean products, shitake mushrooms, amaranth grain, wheat germ, rice bran, cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, corn, chickpeas, grapefruit, durian fruit, green peppers, and aged cheeses.
For the carnivores among us, you can also find it in shellfish and organ meats.
This all depends on the spermidine supplement. Spermidine is known for having low bioavailability. So, the amount you take may not be the amount that makes it to your cells.
Most supplements have between 1-10 mg of spermidine per serving. If you take a quality supplement that prioritizes bioavailability you may need a lower dose as cellular uptake is more reliable.
We reviewed the best spermidine products here, so check it out.
Our spermidine levels drop as we age and can start as early as 25-30. Ideally, you want to get in before they drop off too dramatically. You can start by increasing your consumption of spermidine-rich foods and look at taking a supplement from there.
Your early to mid-30s is a good time. But you probably don’t want to wait until 40+.
Spermidine is safe when consumed from dietary sources and supplements. There is no evidence to suggest spermidine has any adverse side effects. Plus, it’s also safe to take a spermidine supplement daily (and likely more therapeutic than taking it whenever the mood strikes you).
That said, it is still early days in terms of clinical research. We need more research to establish safe dosage ranges.
Always speak to your healthcare provider before taking any new supplement.
Now more than ever, exciting developments are happening in longevity research. We have access to several science-backed compounds that may improve your lifespan and health span.
You can also read our article on hormesis for longevity to learn about non-supplemental ways to extend your lifespan.
Don’t let the name put you off – spermidine supplementation may help you avoid some of the worst things about getting older.
It’s still early days; long-term human clinical trials are severely lacking. But it’s hard not to get excited about the data we have so far on spermidine benefits.
That said, regular physical activity, a nutrient-dense diet, and quality sleep are the foundations for a long life. Using spermidine in combination with these autophagy-promoting lifestyle changes is the cherry on top.
If you’re ready to take the plunge into supplementation, check out our article on the 7 Best Spermidine Supplements to find the right product.