Growth Differentiation Factor 11 (GDF-11) is a naturally occurring, blood-born peptide. It was first identified in a 2004 study, which discovered its rejuvenating effects on the function of multiple organs in older mice.
Nearly a decade later, in 2013, there was more enthusiasm when a pair of Harvard researchers injected GDF-11 into aged mice and found that even their hearts began to resemble those of younger mice.
GDF-11 seemed to have reversed the aging process in these mice. Could it be the key to rejuvenation? Or are its effects too good to be true?
What Is GDF-11?
GDF-11 is a celebrity member of the transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) superfamily, which in short regulates cell growth and differentiation in both embryonic and adult tissues. These family members are deeply involved in the processes of embryonic development and adult tissue homeostasis. But, when dysregulated, diseases of all sorts can develop.
GDF-11 certainly seems to have some promising superpowers. For one, it has been proven to decrease fibrosis in a range of organs. GDF-11 also specifically plays an important role in the regulation of metabolic homeostasis and energy balance, demonstrating it might be a tool in treating metabolic disease.
GDF-11 and the Brain
GDF-11 also has functions in the brain, specifically the hippocampus, one of the brain areas affected by Alzheimer’s. GDF-11 passes from the bloodstream across the blood-brain barrier in a small amount, which is thought to help maintain the blood-brain barrier and vascular stability. GDF-11 improves hippocampal neurogenesis and vasculature, and it is thought that, particularly if GDF-11 levels decrease with age (a point of research that has yet to be proved definitively), GDF-11 could have neuroprotective effects.
To this end, in a 2019 study on mice, GDF-11 promoted neurogenesis in mice after stroke resulting in functional recovery. Elevian, a biotech company, is formally developing therapies focused on GDF-11 increases to the end of restoring “regenerative capacity in older people to maintain health and prevent age-related diseases.” Elevian has raised significant funding for stroke recovery trials with plans to start in 2023.
If the amount of GDF-11 in our systems naturally declines with age, what if humans could inject GDF-11 such that our stem cell DNA is continuously repaired? Steve Perry, CEO at GDF11 Rejuvenation, is trying just that, having injected himself as the first human trial of GDF-11 in June 2014. In 2019, he provided an update claiming signs of age reversal. In the meantime, research-grade GDF-11 is available for purchase online. Regardless, GDF-11 should generally not be taken unless prescribed by a healthcare practitioner.
Can you naturally Increase GDF-11?
While the rejuvenation potential of GDF-11 might sound like magic, its natural production is linked to two functions that we already know can stave off aging: diet and exercise. According to a 2021 study on sedentary, aging female rats, low-intensity exercise for a long period decreases inflammation and oxidative stress while increasing GDF-11. In other words, exercise naturally boosts GDF-11, with all its restorative powers. This study supports earlier research on mice that indicated increased levels of GDF-11 associated with exercise.
Increases in GDF-11 and calorie restriction have similar effects, including “improved cerebral blood flow, while increasing neurogenesis and cognition.” It is believed that these effects share underpinning mechanisms.
GDF-11 as an Alternative Treatment for Cancer in Dogs
For dogs with hemangiosarcoma, GDF-11 treatments offer hope as an alternative treatment, reportedly stopping tumor growth and, in some cases, killing tumor cells.
Still, it’s not a magic bullet. In a 2017 study on dogs with chronic mitral valve insufficiency, there were no significant differences in serum GDF-11 levels between dogs at different stages of CMVI-associated heart failure. In fact, levels of GDF-11 circulating didn’t correlate with age, body weight, echocardiographic variables, and the severity of CMVI-induced heart failure in dogs.
GDF-11 Food Sources
When it comes to food, glucose and lipids have the ability to stimulate immune cells’ inflammatory response. While only available as a supplement, GDF-11 has been proven to achieve the opposite effect, delaying the onset of age-related biomarkers in mice. According to a 2022 study, GDF-11 does this specifically by (1) enhancing the activity of antioxidant enzymes, including catalase (CAT), superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione peroxidase (GPX), (2) reducing the reactive oxygen species (ROS) level, and (3) slowing down the protein oxidation and lipid peroxidation.
GDF-11 has the potential to be a promising therapy for a range of diseases and ailments, or perhaps, a way to help our bodies stay younger for longer.