Leading scientist Bruce Ames, now 90, has published more than 500 studies in his distinguished career, and shows no sign of letting up.
In his latest paper he introduces the idea of “longevity vitamins.” These are nutrients he’s particularly identified that give us a long and healthy life. Or, to be more exact, they load the odds heavily in your favor.
Despite the name he’s given to the category, none of these is actually classified as a vitamin. And – more interesting to me — several of them are almost unknown.
Considering he’s made it to 90 himself, I’d say his ideas are worth a look. Here are the “big ten”. . .
The Triage Theory
Dr. Ames, from the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute in California, put forward his triage theory in 2006.
He proposed that when the body encounters a shortage of nutrients, it will preferentially use the proteins/enzymes that depend on them for key short-term functions. He calls these “survival proteins.”
If these proteins also have functions in long-term health – they’re “longevity proteins” – then that function will have to be sacrificed, because the body must prioritize survival, reproduction and early development over any long-term considerations.
Under conditions of chronic modest deficiencies – which are pretty much “normal” in the majority of Americans — this built-in rationing system will eventually lead to diseases of aging, because enzymes required for long-term health become increasingly inactive.
People in a state of deficiency may have enough of the major nutrients to survive, but not enough to manufacture the longevity proteins that lay the foundations for a long life.
Degenerative disease starts early in life, he claims, but is not clinically obvious because the damage is insidious and accumulates over time. It only becomes apparent much later.
Proof in Animal Studies
His theory was reinforced in his lab through testing vitamin K and selenium deficiencies in mice.
The body prioritized the production of enzymes that depend on vitamin K for its critical role in blood clotting, and produced less vitamin K-dependent enzymes needed in bone metabolism and keeping arteries clear. He saw the same system of rationing for selenium.
In his latest paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Ames broadens his triage theory.
There are 30 known vitamins and minerals as well as essential fatty acids and amino acids that are required for health. Severe deficiencies in these nutrients are linked to deadly or crippling diseases.
Dr. Ames argues that many of these nutrients have dual roles in both short and long-term health and are therefore needed in optimal amounts. As well as vitamin K and selenium, he includes vitamin D, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids, among others.
But in addition, there are ten longevity vitamins that support the function of longevity proteins.
The Ten Longevity Vitamins
Although not currently accepted as vitamins, he believes they should be recognized as essential because they have the potential to prevent degenerative disease and extend life.
They are as follows, together with some of the main dietary sources:
Lutein & Zeaxanthin – green, leafy vegetables (e.g., kale, spinach, broccoli, peas and lettuce), egg yolks, red peppers, corn
Lycopene – tomatoes, watermelon, papaya, pink grapefruit
Alpha carotene – pumpkin, carrots, butternut squash, tangerines, tomatoes
Beta carotene – sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, butternut squash
Beta cryptoxanthin – bell peppers, pumpkin, squash, papaya, tangerines, carrots
Astaxanthin – salmon, trout, krill, shrimp, crayfish
Ergothioneine – mushrooms, kidney, liver, black and red beans, oat bran
Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) – fermented soybeans, parsley, green pepper, kiwi fruit, papaya, spinach, celery, green tea
Queuine – coconut water, wheat germ, tomatoes, cow’s and goat’s milk
The first seven longevity vitamins are all carotenoids backed by good evidence that they help extend lifespan. The next two have been the subject of previous Aging Defeated articles (Issue #39 and Issue #84).
But if you’re wondering what on earth queuine is, you’re not alone. I’m not sure how it’s pronounced, so I’m just going to pronounce it “cue-ine.”
Dr. Ames describes it as “an evolutionary ancient compound” found in bacteria. It gets taken up in plants and animals and then in us when we eat them. It plays an important role in making tRNAs which help cells make proteins.
A shortage of queuine leads to reduced production of tyrosine, serotonin, epinephrine, nor-epinephrine and nitric oxide.
As I write these words, it’s not available as a supplement. But apparently it is manufactured by certain gut bacteria — I don’t know which – and if you maintain a healthy microbiome you may be benefiting from this nutrient. These are early days in the study of queuine. As I learn more, I’ll pass it on to you.
Other Important Nutrients
Dr. Ames also considers the nutrients choline and taurine to be important because, although they can be synthesized in the body, this doesn’t occur at levels that optimize metabolism. They are known as conditional vitamins. The scientist believes other possible candidates for conditional status are lipoic acid, CoQ10 and carnitine.
He wraps up his article by writing that besides keeping physically fit, you need to optimize nutrition if you want to prolong healthy aging.
Walter Willet, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard, commented on his paper by saying it provides “a strong body of evidence that benefits on longevity are possible and even likely for many of these [nutrients].”