Megavitamins may help treat genetic diseases, tune up an aging body’s metabolism

By Robert Sanders, Public Affairs

10 April 2002 | High doses of some vitamins could play a big role in the treatment of disease and perhaps slow the effects of aging, according to campus biochemist Bruce Ames.

In an article published this month, Ames and his colleagues list more than 50 genetic diseases successfully treated with high doses of vitamins; most of them rare inborn metabolic diseases due to defective enzymes.

Ames believes there may be many more diseases treatable with high-dose vitamins, in particular the eight B vitamins like niacin, thiamine and pyridoxine. And because aging involves similar biochemical deficiencies, megavitamins may help perk up an increasingly older population.

“I suspect that the big impact is going to be in aging,” said Ames, a professor of molecular and cell biology and a researcher at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute.

Megadose vitamin therapy is the use of vitamins in amounts at least 10 times greater than the recommended daily allowance, or RDA.

High-dose vitamins, by tweaking enzyme functioning, may also improve the health of many segments of society.

“Zinc and iron deficiency, vitamin C, B-12 and B-6 deficiencies are very common,” said Ames.

Flooding the body with an excess of some enzyme cofactors may perk up the aging body, since aging is accompanied by oxidative damage to many proteins and enzymes.

Of the 50 diseases Ames has tracked down, 11 respond to vitamin B-6. These include enzyme diseases that lead to blindness, mental retardation, kidney failure and developmental problems.

“All the neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, use vitamin B-6,” said Ames. “So maybe when you take high levels, it raises serotonin levels in the brain. There is some evidence for that.”

In order to stimulate discussion of their ideas, Ames and his colleagues have created a web site — — where scientists and lay people alike can share information about megavitamins and illness.


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