Vitamins are nutrients that when synthesized or assimilated in the right quantities support our health and well-being. A new review suggests that a set of known and newly categorized vitamins can help prolong a person's lifespan, and promote health well into old age.
The review, recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted by Dr. Bruce Ames, Senior scientist at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) in Oakland, CA.
This work analyzes the results of numerous studies conducted in Dr. Ames's CHORI laboratory, as well as those carried out by researchers from other institutions.
In the published paper, Dr. Ames identifies a set of vitamins, which he calls "longevity vitamins." He contextualizes the importance of these nutrients by suggesting that people can classify the proteins (or enzymes) that they need to stay healthy as either "survival proteins" or "longevity proteins."
While all these nutrients are essential for well-being, they play different roles. The scientist explains that "survival proteins" support our basic processes for survival and reproduction, whereas "longevity proteins" play an additional role in protecting against further damage to the human body.
When nutrients are deficient, Dr. Ames says, the body tends to favor the production of "survival proteins," which can lead to a decrease in "longevity proteins," and thus to a heightened risk of disease.
"Longevity vitamins," according to the researchers, are the nutrients which support the function of "longevity proteins," and allow the human body to remain healthy, and live for an extended period.
Over 30 vitamins sustain longevity
These nutrients play many roles in the body, including repairing DNA, maintaining cardiovascular health, and preventing cellular damage due to oxidative stress, the scientist argues.
"The prevention of the degenerative diseases of aging is a different science than curing disease: it will involve expertise in metabolism, nutrition, biochemistry, and genetic regulatory elements and polymorphisms," he writes.
"This approach is critical for lowering medical costs. It has been estimated that the [European Union] would save 4 billion euros [$4.6 billion] from osteoporosis alone by utilizing vitamin D and calcium supplementation," the researcher further notes.
In the current review, Dr. Ames argues that 30 known vitamins and essential minerals, taken at adequate doses, can help extend a person's lifespan and ensure healthy aging.
To these, he adds 11 compounds, which, although not currently categorized as "vitamins," Dr. Ames thinks fit in with the concept of "longevity vitamins" as described in his review.
These substances include taurine, ergothioneine, pyrroloquinoline quinone, queuine, lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, and astaxanthin.
'Diet is very important'
Previous studies conducted by Dr. Ames and his team found that individuals with chronic, low-level deficiencies of vitamin K, which is a constituent of 16 different enzymes, and the mineral selenium, which is a key component of 25 enzymes, have a higher risk of experiencing health problems, particularly cardiovascular issues.
Vitamin K is crucial to blood coagulation. When levels of this vitamin are low, the body is unable to produce enough of the enzymes that help keep the arteries clear, allowing blood to flow smoothly.
Considering these observations and the findings of the review, Dr. Ames urges people to be more mindful about following a balanced, healthful diet.
"Diet is very important for our long-term health, and this theoretical framework just reinforces that you should try to do what your mother told you: eat your veggies, eat your fruit, give up sugary soft drinks and empty carbohydrates."
Dr. Bruce Ames
In the future, the researchers believe that specialists might identify even more "longevity vitamins." However, discovering these nutrients requires long periods of observation because their absence from the system does not necessarily cause immediate, visible effects.
Instead, the impact of "longevity vitamin" deficiencies causes disruptions in a person's system over time.
For now, as Dr. Ames notes: "[The current review] may be a theoretical paper, but I hope it can add a few years to everyone's lives."