A key class of vitamins and minerals may help promote longevity and stave off chronic disorders such as heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, scientists say.
Healthy ageing can be extended by ingesting optimal levels of 30 known vitamins and essential minerals, according to the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
These, along with 11 additional substances not currently classified as vitamins, should be recognised as essential "longevity vitamins" because of their potential to extend a healthy life, researchers said.
Most vitamins and minerals are required by dozens to hundreds of different enzymes within our cells, said researchers at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) in the US.
This means that the same nutrients we need to maintain our day-to-day health -- such as vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium -- are also critical components of enzymes required for our bodies' long-term maintenance, in roles such as DNA repair, cardiovascular health and prevention of oxidative damage.
When the body is faced with shortages of key nutrients, it must "ration" them, enabling enzymes critical to our immediate survival and reproductive capacity to keep functioning at the expense of longer-term physiological needs.
"The prevention of the degenerative diseases of ageing is a different science than curing disease: it will involve expertise in metabolism, nutrition, biochemistry and genetic regulatory elements and polymorphisms," said Bruce Ames from CHORI.
In several recent publications, his team has found evidence that such trade-offs can be seen in people with chronic, low-level deficiencies in vitamin K and the element selenium, which are key components of 16 and 25 different enzymes.
Published studies from the Ames lab suggest that, when forced to ration scarce vitamin K for its critical role in blood clotting, the body produces fewer enzymes required for keeping arteries clear, which has been linked to higher rates of mortality from cardiovascular disease.
"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," Ames said.