January 9, 2006
The need for many vitamins increases with age. A deficiency can be compared to radiation exposure, which causes mutations, decreased energy production, cancer, and age-related changes in the body, according to one of the World’s leading nutrition scientists.
When Bruce Ames was 70, President Clinton surprised him with U.S.A.’s highest scientific recognition, The National Medal of Science, for his research in nutrition, cancer, and aging.
Today he is 77, but still an almost incomprehensibility active researcher and professor at the famous Berkeley University in California. He is also the man behind the world renown Ames test, a lightning fast method to find out whether a specific chemical can cause mutations, and thereby cancer.
This introduction shows that Ames it a researcher to be listen to, and therefore we have decided to discuss one of Ames’s latest and most important scientific articles.
The article was published in a periodical for the European organization of molecular biologists (EMBO reports). It describes how it is possible to reduce the tendency for cancer and aging by taking more than the recommended dose of diverse vitamins and other important substances.
How does it do this? In his study Ames found that deficiencies of vitamins C, E, B6, and B12 as well as of folic acid and zinc can have exactly the same effect on cells as radioactivity. This means that such deficiency causes mutations, for example as a result of breakage of the chromosomes.
Folic acid deficiency causes such breakage because it leads to the introduction of a wrong substance (uracil) in uncountable places along the DNA molecules. These mutations affect the cells the same way as a virus affects a computer. In the worst cases, the system beaks down.
But deficiency does not only lead to mutations. Another result is weakening of the energy producing mitochondria, otherwise known as the cells’ power plants. In order for the mitochondria to function, they must have access to certain enzymes, which can be regarded as the power plant’s machinery. The enzymes work together so that the product from one “machine” is processed further by the next in a chain of reactions which result in the conversation of oxygen and hydrogen into water, and the production of energy. But where do the enzymes come from? Without the necessary building blocks they do not exist at all!
Ames has among other things proven that deficiencies of zinc or the B vitamins biotin and pantothenic acid weaken the fourth reaction in this chain of reactions. They are the building blocks of the “machines” which carry out this step in the process. Not only is the production of energy reduced by such deficiency, but oxygen is also insufficiently converted to water. As a result the mitochondria empty free radicals into the surrounding cell where they can cause mutations, cancer, and weakness.
Why does Ames believe that it is necessary to take more vitamins than recommended? This is as a result of the third and last point in his thought process. It regards the consequence of the uncountable mutations which by the aforementioned methods unavoidably arise during ones life. These mutations cause the cells to produce less effective enzymes that bind less effectively to the vitamins which they need to aid their function. Ames maintains that this poor binding can be overcome simply by increasing the amount of vitamins. This makes the enzymes work again.
A particular problem in this regard is the weakening of the mitochondria which occurs with age. Without energy, nothing functions within the cell and the degeneration of the mitochondria is central to what we call aging. But Ames emphasizes that it is possible to make old rats faster by giving them supplements of the two vitamin-like substances lipoic acid and carnitine.
Both substances are important intermediates for energy production in the mitochondria. With age they bind poorly to the enzymes which cause the mitochondria to function poorly. But this poor binding can also be overcome with supplements. As well as making the rats faster it was possible to measure that their mitochondria once again functioned normally. Clinically such treatment has been able to result in improvement in people with mild Alzheimer’s.
The unique thing about Ames is that his arguments are based on biochemistry. This means that he refers to elementary chemical reactions which are demonstrable in the organism. Many others base their views of more or less uncertain clinical trails, sometimes without knowledge of the biochemistry behind them. It might not be coincidental that The Nobel Prise in medicine typically is given to a biochemist.
By: Vitality Council
1. Bruce N Ames. Increasing longevity by tuning up metabolism. EMBO reports 2005;6:S20- S23.
2. Memory loss in old rats is associated with brain mitochondrial decay and RNA/DNA oxidation: Partial reversal by feeding acetyl-L-carnitine and/or R-a-lipoic acid. J. Liu et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA.2002;99:2356-61.
3. B N Ames et al. High-dose vitamins stimulate variant enzymes with decreased coenzyme-binding affinity (increased Km): Relevance to genetic diseases and polymorphisms. Am J Clin Nutr 2002;75:616-58.