A chronic shortage of vitamins and other "micronutrients" in the diet may be responsible for triggering many of the ills of modern life such as cancer, obesity and the degenerative diseases of ageing.
Professor Bruce Ames, of the University of California, Berkeley, who invented one of the standard tests for cancer-causing chemicals, said many people's diets were deficient in one or more of the 40 micronutrients essential for a healthy life.
Taking dietary supplements in the form of vitamin pills could help to counteract many of the disorders associated with ageing, Dr Ames told the American Association meeting.
He said many people on a high-calorie diet in the West or poor diet in developing countries were short of micronutrients and this caused the body to go into an emergency "triage" response in which it tried to keep its metabolism in balance by a process of compensation. This ensures immediate survival, but the consequences are an increase in DNA damage, which causes future cancers, a lowered immune defence, and a decay of the mitochondrial "power plants" of the cells, which causes accelerated ageing," he said.
He said a shortage of minerals, vitamins and other nutrients could also be partly responsible for obesity.
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