Broadly speaking, good health happens when the body is given what it needs to operate as it evolved to do, with toxic exposures kept to a minimum. What it needs are nutrients – not just the macro- and micronutrients in our food but also things like exercise, sleep, and more.

supplementsNow, a fascinating new paper in PNAS suggests another way of thinking about the nutrients we get through food in particular.

Analyzing the results of numerous studies conducted in his lab at the Children’s Hopsital Oakland Research Institute up in Oakland, Dr. Bruce Ames identifies a particular set of nutrients as “longevity vitamins” – nutrients that play a protective role, sustaining good health and preventing disease.

They stand in contrast to what he calls “survival proteins,” or nutrients that support only the basic processes of survival and reproduction.

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.

Critically, they’re the nutrients needed for cellular health, doing everything from repairing DNA to preventing damage from oxidative stress. Most of these are already well-known, such as vitamins K and D, magnesium, selenium, and 26 others.

But Dr. Ames also argues for other compounds to be included, as well. Taurine, for instance – a conditional amino acid that can work as an antioxidant – should be considered a “conditional vitamin,” he says. Ten more compounds, he suggest, also fit his concept of longevity vitamins:

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.

Ideally, we would get all the survival and longevity vitamins we need through diet (or, in the case of vitamin D, regular exposure to sunlight). Real food is always your best source of nutrients, after all. With whole food, you get a complete nutritional package.

But many of us may not be able to fully assimilate the nutrients we consume – whether because of a genetic legacy, toxic burdens, lifestyle habits, or other factors. Identifying, understanding, and addressing such barriers with the help of an integrative physician is a crucial step toward creating Radiant Health.

Supplements, of course, can be helpful in such cases, too. Perhaps even better is nutritional support through IV drip therapies, as these deliver nutrients straight to the circulation where they can be delivered more quickly to the cells that need them.

The main thing? Feeding your body what it needs not just to survive but to thrive.

Image by Shannon Kringen, via Flickr


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