Prized in Chile as an aphrodisiac, this potato-shaped deep-sea creature is also a very popular delicacy in Japan and South Korea. If you come across one in the wild, take care! When disturbed from a surface it’s attached to, it sprays water. This unusual defense is how it got the name sea squirt.
Science hasn’t verified whether the sea squirt stimulates physical desire, but a recent study found that this fascinating little sea creature contains compounds that show promise for improving an aging memory and even helping the body look and feel younger.
These compounds, called plasmalogens, are a specialized type of phospholipid, or fat molecule, which builds cellular membranes. Approximately 20 percent of phospholipids in human tissue are plasmalogens, with especially high amounts in the brain, heart, and immune cells.
Studies show that as you age, your levels of plasmalogens decrease. The reduced levels are associated with normal aging and poorer brain health and are found specifically in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
To investigate the role of plasmalogens in brain aging, scientists from Stanford and three universities in China collaborated on a study. They came up with some novel findings.
Improves Learning and Memory
Their study looked at the effects of giving supplements of plasmalogens to young and old mice trained to navigate a Morris water maze. Since mice aren’t keen on swimming, when trained, they will head towards a hidden platform just below the surface of the water. Not surprisingly, older mice take longer to do this.
However, after taking the supplements for two months, the old mice astonishingly performed more like their younger counterparts. Meanwhile, the control group of older, non-supplemented mice took their time as usual.
To discover the reason for this improved spatial learning and memory ability, scientists examined their brains and found a surprise…
Plasmalogen supplemented mice had a greater number and quality of synapses – the connections between neurons where signals are transmitted. These are crucial for learning and memory but decrease and deteriorate with age.
In addition, the research team found the supplemented mice had dramatically reduced levels of inflammation which is linked to synapse dysfunction, cognitive decline, and neurodegeneration.
But that was only the beginning…
Gray Hair Turns Black
The researchers found another surprising finding: The older, supplemented mice not only started acting younger, but they also started looking younger, too.
While the old mice not given supplements had gray body hair and hair loss, the older supplemented mice had a healthy appearance with a reversal of hair loss and a return of their natural, younger color. They looked much like young mice.
The lead author, Professor Lei Fu, was excited about the findings, saying, “Our research suggests that plasmalogens may not just stop cognitive decline but may reverse cognitive impairments in the aging brain. Additionally, aged mice fed with the plasmalogens grow new black hair that is thicker and glossier than aged mice not fed the supplement.”
Why Plasmalogens Help Memory and Aging
According to Professor Fu, “We found that plasmalogens significantly increase the number of molecules that aid the growth and development of neurons and synapses in the brain. This suggests that plasmalogens can promote neuro-regeneration.”
Professor Fu also speculates the improvements in learning and memory could be linked to the positive influence of dietary plasmalogens on microorganisms in the gut, since a good gut microbiome positively influences the brain.
This doesn’t surprise me. More and more research is confirming the importance of the gut microbiome to maintaining strong cognitive skills, not to mention enjoying robust health and better aging. And I believe it’s only the beginning of what new science will reveal.
How Can You Get More Plasmalogens?
Plasmalogens may be the next big thing in anti-aging medicine. The professor is so convinced by the results of this study that he now takes a plasmalogen supplement each day.
Unfortunately, supplements are still very expensive and sea squirts are not readily available to dine on in the United States and some of Europe. The best alternatives are eating scallops and mussels, which have high plasmalogen levels. Significant amounts of this wonder nutrient are also found in pork and beef.