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Health Team

Could Desert Plant + Mice = Longer Life for Humans?

Posted August 16, 2007 5:13 p.m. EDT
Updated August 17, 2007 12:59 p.m. EDT

For centuries, man has searched for the fountain of youth. It could be he just looked in the wrong place.

A desert plant, known as a creosote bush, might hold the secret, scientists say. They are interested in a chemical inside the bush.

The chemical is called nordihydroguaiaretic acid, and Dr. Richard Miller with the University of Michigan said he has been feeding the compound to mice.

“This particular compound is supposed to have both anti-cancer effects [and] anti-oxidant effects,” Miller said. “It has effects on a batch of hormone levels, and it has anti-inflammatory effects as well.”

In the study, the mice lived longer, but there's a catch. It doesn't appear to work on female mice.

“We're not sure why that is,” Miller said.

The study is ongoing, and scientists said they don't know how many more years the male mice might get. At this point, they can only guess.

“It might be a 10 percent change,” Miller said. “A 10 percent change for people would be an extension of lifespan, on average, from maybe 80 to 88.”

It will take time and testing to find out if what's happening in these mice can happen in humans of both sexes and whether this desert bush holds an oasis of extra years.

The chemical found in the creosote or chaparral bush, has been evaluated as a treatment for cancer, but because of the risk of toxicity, it's considered unsafe and not recommended for use.