Longevity Vitamins - A Review
I never really believed in vitamins. My mom made me take them on and off throughout my childhood, but a lot of the literature out there is pretty adamant: there’s really no need to take supplementary vitamins, as we get an adequate amount through a healthy diet. There are exceptions - if you only eat ramen you’re gonna be in trouble. If you’re dark skinned and living in a low sunlight climate Vitamin D supplements might be a good idea. But I have neither problem, and so lived firm in my belief that vitamins supplements were for fools and worrywarts - capitalism’s latest grab at creating fear to turn a profit.
But then one day scrolling through Twitter a tweet caught my eye. Those of you who have suffered through my explanations (rants) on intermittent fasting or caloric restriction may have guessed that I’m highly interested in anti-aging methods. The tweet offered up an article which claimed to be about so called “longevity vitamins”, which I couldn’t resist. But it turned out to be highly uninformative. Instead of giving me a listicle of vitamins to shove down my gullet it instead just impressed upon the reader the importance of a set of mysterious “30 known vitamins and essential minerals … along with 11 additional substances” with no mention of what they were!
But I was not to be deterred. I reached out to the primary author, Dr. Bruce Ames, by email and asked him if he could supply me with anything. He sent me back the full paper - totalling thirteen pages of material including the supportive information. There’s a download link at the bottom if you’re really interested - those of you with shorter attention spans can just read my summary below.
Prolonging Healthy Aging Article Summary
Dr. Ames, in previous work, studied Selenium and Vitamin K. When the body consumes “just enough” (aka the daily recommended doses) or less of these two Vitamin/Minerals (V/Ms) it uses them for processes that are critical to survival (hence the word “essential” in “essential vitamins and minerals”). But his lab found that when these two V/Ms are over consumed the body proceeds to further engage in more processes that aren’t survival critical but are required for long term maintenance. In Ames’ current paper he takes this evidence to it’s (probable) natural conclusion: it’s highly likely that all essential vitamins and minerals undergo a similar “triage” process.
Dr. Ames doesn’t explicitly go on to recommend an increase in intake - instead the summary article talks about the benefits of eating a healthy and balanced diet 😴 But, if you have a lightning fast mind like mine, you’ll immediately see the obvious conclusion. Perhaps the reason that V/M supplements haven’t been clinically shown to have effects on overall health or longevity is simply because the dosages weren’t high enough.
Personally, I think it’s worth a shot. Throwing a bunch of extra vitamins at your body can’t do any harm! So long as you’re careful to stay under clinically set upper limits. And so long as you have no pre-existing medical conditions. And you don’t take other interacting medications. And you make sure to adjust for age and pregnancy status.
The rest of Ames’ article is spent justifying why eleven substances that aren’t currently classified as “essential” V/Ms should be classified as “longevity” V/Ms. I’ll go more into those later, but first I want to take a closer look at our thrity “known” vitamins and minerals.
The Thirty Essential Vitamins/Minerals
Lets start by taking a look at the recommended daily intake and upper limits for our thirty friends.
Values are generally for ages 18-50, * indicates the Upper Limit is on supplements, + indicates that the upper limit is total consumption (including foods)
|Vitamin/Mineral||Daily Intake (Men)||Daily Intake (Women)||Upper Limit|
|Vitamin A||5000 IU||5000 IU||10000 IU *|
|Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)||1.2 mg||1.1 mg||None|
|Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)||1.3 mg||1.1 mg||None|
|Vitamin B3 (Niacin)||16 mg NE||14 mg NE||35 mg *|
|Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)||5 mg||5 mg||10000 mg *|
|Vitamin B6||1.3 mg||1.3 mg||100 mg +|
|Vitamin B7 (Biotin)||30 mcg||30 mcg||None|
|Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)||400 mcg DFE||400 mcg DFE||1000 mcg *|
|Vitamin B12||2.4 mcg||2.4 mcg||None|
|Vitamin C||90 mg||75 mg||2000 mg +|
|Vitamin D||600 IU||600 IU||4000 IU +|
|Vitamin E||22.4 IU||22.4 IU||1100 IU +|
|Vitamin K||120 mcg||90 mcg||None|
|Choline||550 mg||425 mg||3500 mg +|
|Calcium||1000 mg||1000 mg||2500 mg +|
|Chloride||2.0 g||2.0 g||3.6 g +|
|Chromium||35 mcg||25 mcg||None|
|Cobalt||0.12 mcg||0.12 mcg||1-2 mcg +|
|Copper||900 mcg||900 mcg||10 mg +|
|Iodine||150 mcg||150 mcg||1100 mcg +|
|Iron||8 mg||18 mg||45 mg +|
|Magnesium||400-420 mg||310-320 mg||350 mg *|
|Manganese||2.3 mg||1.8 mg||11 mg +|
|Molybdenum||45 mcg||45 mcg||2000 mcg +|
|Phosphorus||700 mg||700 mg||4000 mg +|
|Potassium||3400 mg||2600 mg||None|
|Selenium||55 mcg||55 mcg||400 mcg +|
|Sodium||1500 mg||1500 mg||2300 mg +|
|Sulfur||No data||No data||No data|
|Zinc||11 mg||8 mg||40 mg +|
I have a supplement I started taking while traveling abroad (it’s hard to eat as healthy as a tourist!) Let’s take a look at what’s in it:
|Vitamin A||3500 IU|
|Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)||1.5 mg|
|Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)||1.7 mg|
|Vitamin B3 (Niacin)||20 mg|
|Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)||10 mg|
|Vitamin B6||2 mg|
|Vitamin B7 (Biotin)||30 mcg|
|Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)||400 mcg|
|Vitamin B12||6 mcg|
|Vitamin C||60 mg|
|Vitamin D||1000 IU|
|Vitamin E||30 IU|
|Vitamin K||25 mcg|
Wow it seems I get some extras: Nickel, Silicon, Tin and Vanadium! However it seems it’s missing Choline, Cobalt, Sodium, and Sulfur. Sodium is probably not a big deal, as it was one of the few things that people tend to regularly over consume (in the form of salt).
Ok, now, let’s assume that I buy into Dr. Ames’ argument that we should really be loading up on all these vitamins and minerals, beyond jut hitting whatever recommended daily intake the government suggests. How many of these pills could I take a day before veering into danger territory…?
Let’s start by assuming that I already get the recommended daily intake from my diet, and add two pills. We’re only interested in figuring out if we cross the safety threshold, so I’m leaving out calculations for V/Ms with no limit.
* means that the Upper Limit applies to supplements only, so this value should be considered as 0
|Vitamin/Mineral||Daily Intake (starting point)||Pill Dosage||Daily Intake + Two Pills||Upper Limit||Margin for Error (Upper Limit - (Daily Intake + Two Pills)|
|Vitamin A||*||3500 IU||7000 IU||10000 IU||3000 IU|
|Vitamin B3 (Niacin)||*||20 mg||40 mg||35 mg||-5 mg|
|Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)||*||10 mg||20 mg||10000 mg||9980 mg|
|Vitamin B6||1.3 mg||2 mg||5.3 mg||100 mg||94.7 mg|
|Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)||*||400 mcg||800 mcg||1000 mcg||200 mcg|
|Vitamin C||90 mg||60 mg||210 mg||2000 mg||1790 mg|
|Vitamin D||600 IU||1000 IU||2600 IU||4000 IU||1400 IU|
|Vitamin E||22.4 IU||30 IU||82.4 IU||400 IU||317.6 IU|
|Calcium||1000 mg||200 mg||1400 mg||2500 mg||1100 mg|
|Chloride||2.0 g||72 mg||2.14 g||3.6 g||1.46 g|
|Copper||900 mcg||0.5 mg||1.9 mg||10 mg||8.1 mg|
|Iodine||150 mcg||150 mcg||450 mcg||1100 mcg||650 mcg|
|Iron||8 mg||18 mg||44 mg||45 mg||1 mg|
|Magnesium||*||50 mg||100 mg||350 mg||250 mg|
|Manganese||2.3 mg||2.3 mg||6.9 mg||11 mg||4.1 mg|
|Molybdenum||45 mcg||45 mcg||135 mcg||2000 mcg||1865 mcg|
|Phosphorus||700 mg||20 mg||740 mg||4000 mg||3260 mg|
|Selenium||55 mcg||55 mcg||165 mcg||400 mcg||235 mcg|
|Zinc||11 mg||11 mg||33 mg||40 mg||6 mg|
So as it turns out, if I doubled my dosage (two pills a day) the only line I would cross would be the limit on Vitamin B3 (Niacin). I’m toeing the line on Iron and Zinc as well, but for the remaining V/Ms I have quite a margin!
Looking further at Vitamin B3 (Niacin), it turns out that severe side effects only occur at levels of 500 or 1000 mg a day. The upper limit is set to 30 mg because the effects of “dietary supplements with 30 mg or more of nicotinic acid [are making] the skin on your face, arms, and chest turn red and burn, tingle, and itch. These symptoms can also lead to headaches, rashes, and dizziness” (source). But the Niacin in my supplement seems to come in the form of “niacinamide”, instead of “nicotinic acid”. Seems I’d be safe to double up!
Ideally I’d also find some other supplement to cover the V/Ms that this one is missing, but the only one that I’d be interested in is Choline as it’s the only one that Dr. Ames later emphasizes as having a role as a “longevity vitamin” (see below). Choline supplements seem to be easily found on Amazon.
Dr. Ames goes on to justify classifying eleven substances (some of which are already “essential” V/Ms) as “longevity” V/Ms. Although in theory all the essential V/Ms could be undergoing some triage process, these eleven are ones that Dr. Ames has more reason to believe are essential for healthy aging. I’ve summarized his reasons briefly.
* indicates that this V/M is already an essential V/M, bolded items are new
- Vitamin K * : Necessary for the function of 16 enzymes. Inadequacy causes all-cause and cardiovascular mortality.
- Selenium * : Necessary for function of 25 enzymes. Selenium supplementation showed a more than 40% reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality risk. Also reduced hypertension, impaired cardiac function and diabetes.
- Vitamin D * : Inadequate in 70% of US population, particularly among dark-skinned people. Thought to be useful only for protecting against rickets. Shown to produce a hormone that has 2,700 binding sites on human DNA.
- Marine Omega-3 Fatty Acids, DHA and EPA: Inadequate in most of US population. Low levels correlated with increased all-cause mortality. 1% increase in DHA/EPA linked with 20% decreased risk in all-cause mortality. Present in high levels in nervous system. Low levels associated with faster telomere shortening (a marker of cell aging).
- Magnesium * : Inadequate in 45% of US population. Deficiency associated with cardiovascular disease, increased all-cause mortality, poor DNA repair capacity, cancer, heart disease, telomere shortening, strokes.
- Choline * : Synthesized naturally, but not to sufficient levels. Deficiency results in DNA strand breaks in rodents, alterations to epigenetic markers and histones, and affects brain development.
- Taurine: Synthesized naturally, but not to sufficient levels. Helps prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes, brain dysfunction, and various mitochondrial diseases. The Japanese in Okinawa have a very high taurine intake, and very long lifespan. By contrast, Japanese living abroad in Brazil consuming very little taurine had a 17 year shorter lifespan.
- Ergothioneine (ESH): Present in human diet, and found naturally in human tissue. Used in protein transport system, linked to cardiovascular disease prevention, and functions as an antioxidant.
- Pyrroloquinoline Quinone (PQQ): Made by bacteria, not by humans or plants. Has benefits for diabetes, antioxidant activity, neuro-protection, cognition, anti-inflammation, and increased mitochondrial efficiency.
- Queuine: Queuine-deficient mice die within 18 days of withdrawal. Queuine has been used to elicit a full remission from multiple sclerosis in mice.
- Carotenoids: Synthesized by plants but not animals. Low intake associated with all-cause mortality, macular (part of the eye) degeneration and associated blindness, cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, oxidative damage to DNA, high blood pressure, hearing loss, decreased visual acuity, inflammation, and immune decay.
We’ve already looked at the daily intake and upper limits for the essential V/Ms, so now lets take a look at our six new substances.
* indicates the Upper Limit is on supplements, + indicates that the upper limit is total consumption (including foods)
|Substance||Daily Intake||Upper Limit|
|Marine Omega-3 Fatty Acids, DHA and EPA||Not Specified||2 g *|
|Taurine||500-2000 mg||3000 mg *|
|Ergothioneine (ESH)||30 mg||Unknown|
|Pyrroloquinoline Quinone (PQQ)||???||A study used 20 mg once and that seemed ok|
There is much less information here. The Google search results are much sketchier, but I tried to stick to more authoritative sources, or articles that linked to authoritative sources. Queuine I simply cannot find any information on (besides pieces that talk about this same paper I am reviewing) and there are more than 600 different types of Carotenoids, and no information about general supplementation.
Omega-3 supplements are pretty common. Taurine, Ergothioneine, Pyrroloquinoline Quinone (PQQ) and some sort of Carotenoid cocktail supplements seem to be available on Amazon. The only missing link is Queuine - a search for returns a pair of yoga pants.
I am not a doctor. And of course the best path to a long and healthy life is exercising and eating right. But I dunno, seems to me that so long as you stay below daily upper limits you’d be fine… and it just might help!
As a bonus, after digging around on Amazon some, I came up with the following starter pack:
|Name||Sam’s Recommended Dosage||Price for 200 days|
|Jarrow Formulas Mushroom Optimizer (for ESH)||1/day||$18.89|
|Health Thru Nutrition PQQ||1/day||$56.22|
|Price per Day||*||$0.65|
This set of supplements, if taken as prescribed, doesn’t violate any daily maximums (besides Vitamin B3 (Niacin) as discussed above). It does not include supplements for Cobalt, Sulfur, Queuine, or any Carotenoids. Queuine is simply missing from search results, as discussed above, and I didn’t include any Carotenoids because they all include Beta-Carotene which is a precursor to Vitamin A, which I’m already toeing the limit on.
A good chunk (almost half!) of the cost is just from the PQQ - if you dropped that the cost would be $73.48 and the price per day would be only $0.37!
The original article: Ames_2018_Prolonging_Healthy_Aging.pdf
Supportive information: PNAS_SI.pdf