Are There Longevity Vitamins, Like There Are Survival Vitamins?


What we know as “essential vitamins and minerals” are compounds whose absence has been observed to be immensely detrimental or even fatal to humans. Think of death by scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) or pellagra (niacin deficiency). But an important question to ask for each essential vitamin and mineral is: “over what timeframe do detrimental effects of deficiency manifest themselves?”

The answer to this question, for the essential vitamins and minerals we know about, is: a short-to-moderate timeframe. If you don’t consume any vitamin C today, you’re probably not going to suffer any apparent ill-effects. You can even skip your fruits and vegetables tomorrow too, and your teeth won’t fall out from scurvy. For the vitamins and minerals we know, it could take weeks or months of chronically-inadequate intake to cause the highly-negative effects their deficiency has been associated with.

But what if a chronic deficiency of some dietary compound took years or decades to manifest in negative health outcomes and early death? Would we call it a ‘vitamin’? We suspect there is a good chance such a compound wouldn’t be easily identified as essential to healthy longevity, because it would require such a long, controlled experiment to discover the negative effects of its inadequacy.

In the journal article titled “Prolonging healthy aging: Longevity vitamins and proteins”, biochemist Bruce Ames explores the theory that some dietary compounds are required for immediate survival, while others may not provide an immediate benefit, but prolong healthy human life if supplied in sufficient quantities. Moreover, he explains that, if a limited quantity of a nutritional compound is available, its survival functions will be necessarily prioritized over its pro-longevity effects—called the Triage Theory.

Ames then elaborates on 10 compounds that might be considered what he calls “longevity vitamins”—dietary compounds not absolutely necessary for survival and reproduction, but nevertheless may shorten human life with chronic inadequacy.

The following is the information and abstract of the article:

Prolonging healthy aging: Longevity vitamins and proteins.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Oct 23;115(43):10836-10844. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1809045115. Ames BN1.


It is proposed that proteins/enzymes be classified into two classes according to their essentiality for immediate survival/reproduction and their function in long-term health: that is, survival proteins versus longevity proteins. As proposed by the triage theory, a modest deficiency of one of the nutrients/cofactors triggers a built-in rationing mechanism that favors the proteins needed for immediate survival and reproduction (survival proteins) while sacrificing those needed to protect against future damage (longevity proteins). Impairment of the function of longevity proteins results in an insidious acceleration of the risk of diseases associated with aging. I also propose that nutrients required for the function of longevity proteins constitute a class of vitamins that are here named “longevity vitamins.” I suggest that many such nutrients play a dual role for both survival and longevity. The evidence for classifying taurine as a conditional vitamin, and the following 10 compounds as putative longevity vitamins, is reviewed: the fungal antioxidant ergothioneine; the bacterial metabolites pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) and queuine; and the plant antioxidant carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, α- and β-carotene, β-cryptoxanthin, and the marine carotenoid astaxanthin. Because nutrient deficiencies are highly prevalent in the United States (and elsewhere), appropriate supplementation and/or an improved diet could reduce much of the consequent risk of chronic disease and premature aging.

PMID: 30322941

Read More >