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As a person ages, mitochondrial function declines, driving many age-related conditions, including the progressive loss of muscle mass and strength. Findings from a recent study suggest that a compound derived from ellagic acid metabolism helps restore mitochondrial and muscle health in older adults.

Ellagic acid is a bioactive compound found in a wide variety of fruits, nuts, and vegetables, especially walnuts, pomegranates, and rose hips. Bacteria in the human gut break down ellagic acid to produce compounds called urolithins. Scientists have identified about 20 urolithins, but the most studied of these is urolithin A, which exerts potent anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties. The capacity to form urolithin A from ellagic acid varies considerably from person to person and decreases with age.

The randomized clinical trial involved 66 older adults (average age, 71 years) who had poor mitochondrial function. Half of the participants received 1,000 milligrams of urolithin A daily for four months; the other half received a placebo. The participants underwent muscle endurance tests and a timed walking test at the beginning of the study and again at various timepoints throughout the study. Study investigators measured ATP production in the participants' muscle and acylcarnitines, ceramides, and C-reactive protein (markers of mitochondrial health and inflammation) in the participants' blood.

At the end of the four-month study, participants who received the urolithin A supplement showed marked improvements in muscle endurance compared to those who received the placebo. Those who received the urolithin A also exhibited decreased levels of acylcarnitines, ceramides, and C-reactive protein.

These findings suggest that urolithin A, a compound derived from ellagic acid, promotes mitochondrial health and improves muscle endurance in older adults. Ellagic acid is a type of polyphenol. Learn more about polyphenols in our overview article.

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