• Expert opinion
  • 2013

Biological mechanisms of a micronutrient-related anti-aging strategy

Published on

15 August 2013

“Foods can contain significant amounts of bioactive compounds which may decrease aging and thus prolong lifespan. While a lot of anecdotes exist regarding anti-aging and rejuvenating practices and therapies, there are also rigorous and serious science-based anti-aging strategies related to food compounds. The major specific and non-specific anti-aging mechanisms of micronutrients which are intensively studied are as follows:

Antioxidant activities: the scavenging of excessively released toxic reactive oxygen and nitrogen species is thought to prevent lipid peroxidation of cell membranes (including membranes from cytosolic organelles and nuclear membrane), DNA/RNA oxidation (the oxidation rate is at least 20-fold higher in old cells than in young ones) and gene damage as well as protein oxidation, which can cause enzyme inactivation and disintegration of cell structure and disruption of cell function. The antioxidants mainly investigated for potential anti-aging effects are vitamin E (1) and polyphenols (particularly flavonoids) (2);

Anti-apoptotic mechanisms: the prevention of programmed cell death (apoptosis) in important key organs such as brain, heart, liver, kidney, lungs, pancreas and skin can circumvent massive cell losses during aging. Vitamin C (3) and polyphenols (4) have shown to inhibit the activation of apoptotic cytosolic factors (apoptosis inducing factor-1 or APAF-1) and enzymes (e.g., the caspases);

Pro-apoptotic mechanisms: the activation of apoptosis in degenerated cells can circumvent tumor cell growth and proliferation. An activation of apoptotic enzymes and factors was shown for vitamin A (5), vitamin E (1) and polyphenols (4);

Metal ion binding activities: some polyphenols (4) can bind (chelate) excessive amounts of iron, zinc and copper, which are commonly found in association with aging and age-related chronic diseases (e.g., Alzhei-mer’s disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease) – potentially preventing mitochondrial damage and DNA oxidation;

Immune-system-stimulating activitiesvitamin E (1), selenium (6) and zinc (7) and some polyphenols (4) have been shown to modulate and improve diverse immune system functions, which could potentially counter aging as it is characterized by immunodeficiency;

Anti-inflammatory activities: as aging is also associated with chronic inflammation, compounds that can decrease inflammatory processes may prevent aging and age-related diseases. Vitamin E (1), lycopene (8), polyphenols (4) and omega-3 fatty acids (9) seem to positively influence inflammatory factors, such as in interleukin-1 beta and tumor necrosis factor alpha, decreasing the severity of arthritis and chronic inflam-matory heart damage;

Mitochondrial stabilization: as cell survival depends on energy production by mitochondria, protecting the mitochondrial membranes against dysfunction and disruption is essential. Coenzyme Q10 (10), vitamin B3 (11) and omega-3 fatty acids (9) are thought to improve mitochondrial function and/or protect mitochondrial membranes against damaging agents.

Since most of the promising evidence is based on in vitro and in vivo experimental research, more clinical trials are needed to further establish the efficacy of micronutrients in preventing aging and age-related diseases.”


  1. Niki E. and Traber M. G. A history of vitamin E. Ann Nutr Metab. 2012; 61(3):207-212.
  2. Williams R. J. et al. Flavonoids: antioxidants or signalling molecules? Free Radical Biology & Medicine. 2004; 36(7): 838–849.
  3. Traber M. G. and Stevens J. F. Vitamins C and E: beneficial effects from a mechanistic perspective. 
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  5. Noy N. Between death and survival: retinoic acid in regulation of apoptosis. Annu Rev Nutr. 2010; 
  6. Rayman M. P. Selenium and human health. Lancet. 2012; 379(9822):1256-1268.
  7. Wong C. P. and Ho E. Zinc and its role in age-related inflammation and immune dysfunction. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2012; 56(1):77-87.
  8. Böhm V. Lycopene and heart health. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2012; 56(2):296-303.
  9. Giudetti A. M. and Cagnazzo R. Beneficial effects of n-3 PUFA on chronic airway inflammatory diseases. Prostaglandins Other Lipid Mediat. 2012; 99(3-4):57-67.
  10. Littarru G. P. and Tiano L. Clinical aspects of coenzyme Q10: an update. Nutrition. 2010; 26(3):250-254.
  11. Depeint F. et al. Mitochondrial function and toxicity: role of the B vitamin family on mitochondrial energy metabolism. Chem Biol Interact. 2006; 163(1-2):94-112.

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